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Community College Students Missing Out on Financial Aid

Too many community college students are missing out on financial aid, simply because they aren't applying. A new report from the College Board and the American Association of Community Colleges shows that 58 percent of community college students who would be eligible for a federal Pell Grant applied in 2007-08 compared with 77 percent of those at four-year public institutions.

It could be that tuition is lower at community colleges so students don't think they need aid. Or, community colleges are strapped for resources and find it challenging to do adequate outreach with financial aid.

In any case, Pell Grant money—free assistance from the federal government that doesn't have to be repaid—is expanding, and low- to moderate-income community college students deserve access.

So, how should financial-aid offices on community college campuses get the word out?

The report, "The Financial Aid Challenge: Successful Practices That Address the Underutilization of Financial Aid in Community College," offers suggestions, such as:

•Providing bilingual services and materials.

•Expanding office hours to evening or weekend hours.

•Linking financial-aid-application information to college registration.

•Improving outreach through workshops and online resources.

•Working with high school counselors, community organizations, and others to share information.

•Participating in transition programs and mentoring opportunities for high school students.

•Working to coordinate policies for financial aid administration statewide.

If students don't get the aid they need, it may mean that they attend part time to save money or work more hours while in school—both of which hurt their chances of completing a degree. As enrollment at community colleges grows and campuses look for ways to improve graduations rates, building awareness of financial aid seems like a smart investment.

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