The price tag for a college education is growing, but so have the options to curb the cost.

According to Angela Johnson, vice president of access and completion at Cuyahoga Community College with multiple campuses, and Rachel Schmidt, director of financial aid at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, opportunities exists at every level to reduce costs.

“Most people think about the federal financial aid options first, which requires them to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to determine their eligibility,” Johnson said. “Many schools require students to complete the FAFSA to be eligible for institutional aid, as well.”

Schmidt added, “If you’re an incoming freshman, it’s important to start early. There are so many online resources, and it can even start with a part-time job. But there are so many other scholarship opportunities out there. Always start early in your junior year looking at all the outside resources.”

Johnson and Schmidt explained there are other options at institutions. Some schools offer payment plans, work-study programs, which are employment opportunities at universities in which wages apply to tuition, and institutional scholarships and awards. Johnson said starting at a community college is a good first step as credits typically transfer to larger universities.

“The dollars do add up, though,” she said. “It’s really about starting early and that is as early as middle school in thinking about how your family is going to pay for college, and make it more affordable and manageable.”

Schools have options for students, they said.

“Cleveland State has been very responsive to the community’s needs,” Schmidt said. “We have opportunities like our Radiance Scholarship, which gives immediate assistance to students. And we also have the Last Mile, which is for students who exhausted their aid and they’re close to graduating. That is a great response to a need. Running out of money shouldn’t be a reason you can’t finish school.”

Schmidt added Cleveland State also offers the DASH Grant program, which is emergency support for students who need quick money.

At Tri-C, students are aware of opportunities from the moment they apply.

“Once students are admitted, we send them information about how to apply for financial aid and scholarships, and we also provide information about the average financial aid award that students receive,” Johnson explained. “This is because it’s important for students to understand what they could receive from a scholarship. There also needs to be some real connection to those numbers and then it sounds attainable.”

It’s important to have options when making college more affordable, Johnson and Schmidt said. 

“Gone are the days when people start saving when a child is born as a lot of families can’t afford to do that,” Johnson said. “So, it’s important to have these options, so students don’t feel like they are priced out of the market. Having a variety helps people understand how affordable college can be.”

Schmidt added, “It is a responsibility for all institutions to be cognizant of what their students go through. We do a lot of work to get you here and support you academically, but there are so many things that can financially throw you off track. ... Universities need to be able to recognize the whole student and make these options available with no stigma.

“It’s about making sure everyone feels welcome and not judged. Everyone has been at a point in their life where they’ve needed to ask for something. It’s about helping students finish – that’s the goal.”

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