"Financial Aid Enabled Me to Have a College Experience"

November 9, 2017

by Kim Szarmach, Communications Intern

For students underrepresented in higher educationevery dollar counts when piecing together a financial aid package. And their ability to obtain those dollars and succeed in college depends on policymakers establishing a Streamlined FAFSA and approving increased, sustainable funding for need-based aid like Pell Grants and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, as well as programs like Federal Work-StudyAmeriCorps, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

When Candace Chambers was in high school, the Woodward Hines Education Foundation showed her how to access the financial aid she needed and deserved. She filled out and filed her Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and was awarded enough money to attend Jackson State University at no cost to her or her family. 

Candace stated that it probably would not have been possible for her to attend college without financial aid, unless she was willing to take on a large amount of student loan debt.

"Financial aid enabled me to have a college experience without having to worry about financial burden,” she said. “Without it, I probably wouldn't have been able to complete college in four years.”

Two years after graduating from Jackson State University with a bachelor’s degree in English, Candace earned a master's degree and is now working in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s public affairs department. While she's happy in her current job, she plans in the near future to open a community-based academic success center. 

Candace thinks her community in Jackson needs more college access programs like Woodward Hines because the public schools there don't have the necessary resources.

"A lot of counselors in the schools don't have the time to dedicate to each student,” she said. Candace wants to ensure that low-income students have all the information they need before ruling out college as an option for them. What many don't know is that 92 percent of low-income FAFSA applicants receive grants. 

"There are a lot of students who say ‘college is too expensive’ or ‘I can't go to college because my parents don't have any money’," she said. "And they are afraid they will have to take out loans because a lot of parents who are low-income are a lot of times already in debt."

When Candace is able to open her academic success center, she wants to make sure it’s in a location that’s easily accessible to students. She remembers her parents having to drive her to the outskirts of town to get help when she was applying for college, and realizes that not everyone has that option.

Overall, Candace sees raising awareness about resources like the FAFSA, local scholarships, and counseling services as the key to getting more low-income students to apply for college. She wants to spread this information to other students from low-income backgrounds so they can access a higher education and attain a rewarding career, as she has.

But she knows it up to colleges, universities, state and federal institutions to share her goal of improving college access before low-income students can bridge enrollment and completion gaps nationwide.

"They should allocate more funds and make sure people actually know about it."

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