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Financial aid can be a student’s best friend

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student at financial aid window

Carlos Mercado signing up for financial aid. - Phil Hess, Financial Aid Coordinator, working with a student.

There are many ways for students to pay for their college tuition.

The No. 1 option is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Full- and part-time students who plan to be enrolled at PCC for fall term 2007 and beyond should visit the FAFSA web site, complete the aid form and submit it to the Central Processing Center (U.S. Department of Education) as directed online. PCC will notify students via a letter whether or not they have received a grant under the Shared Responsibility Model.

If students don’t qualify for federal or state assistance, there is a wide variety of financial aid available. By filling out the FAFSA form, students often are eligible for work study and Perkins loans. The best time to apply is after Jan. 1 of each year for the following academic year. Students also must re-apply for financial aid every year.

"Even if you don’t need the money it’s a good idea to look into it," said Rock Creek student adviser and peer mentor Carlos Mercado. "You can qualify for grants, loans and work study. It’s better to have it than not to have it. All you have to do is fill out the FAFSA. I do it every year."

The benefit is that those who fill out the FAFSA automatically will be considered for financial assistance under the state’s Shared Responsibility Model. The $106 million worth of grants, formerly called Oregon Opportunity Grants, are open to part- and full-time students in community college or a state four-year school. The money goes to qualified students taking a minimum of six credits.

"If you do it online, it’s quick and easy to follow," Mercado said. "It’s great to have it filled out in case you need the money. It’s a win-win situation."

And filling out the FAFSA is needed on most scholarship applications. Applying for scholarships through the PCC Foundation is also a good way to fund an education. The PCC Foundation, which awards more than 200 scholarships to deserving students every year, is the private fund-raising arm for the college. Through the generosity of private donors and PCC staff members, the PCC Foundation offers scholarships in a variety of programs for students.

student signing up for financial aid window

History says PCC students do take advantage of free money. In 2005-06, more than 78 percent of PCC’s full-time credit students received some form of financial aid. One of those students was Lisa Hummel, a graduate in the gerontology program. She attended the college’s annual Financial Aid Day in January 2006 and discovered a scholarship workshop that helped her find money for college. Now she’s trying to get other students to realize that opportunities abound.

Hummel was the 2007 PCC graduation speaker and was named to the first team of the All-USA Today Academic Team. A member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, Hummel, 40, recently was selected as one of its national New Century Scholars for 2006-07, the only such scholar in Oregon. She is a graduate of Project Independence, a PCC program that helps single parents and displaced homemakers move into higher education or into the workplace.

"Before I started with Project Independence, I was cleaning houses and struggling with two part-time jobs," said Hummel, a single mother. "But even as an older student, I came to realize that I could go back to school. Project Independence has helped make my dreams come true."

She is president of Phi Theta Kappa at the Cascade Campus and volunteers her time at The Heights at Columbia Knoll Retirement Community, Loaves & Fishes and student government fundraisers. She has made the President, Honor and National Dean’s lists and is the recipient of the Ford Foundation Opportunity Scholarship.

To read her complete story, see the news story, Cascade Campus student wins state honor.

A story made possible by simply filling out a form.

"I really needed help with school," Hummel said. "I didn’t know how to apply for scholarships. But I was able to learn and find out more information."

To find out more, visit the PCC financial aid web site.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »