MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

February 19, 2012

Counselors: Time, effort essential to secure aid, reduce costs

By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Finding ways to cut college tuition and fee costs takes time and research, school and financial counselors say.

A big source of financial aid comes from federal sources, primarily federal Pell grants awarded to students on low or middle income. Awards vary depending on the cost of the college and the student or family’s financial circumstances. Students can apply for these grants by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, called FAFSA.

However, sometimes the federal funds aren’t enough, said Judy Moore, a Hilldale High School counselor. She said families “just worry about filling out that gap between what they can receive and what FAFSA says the family’s contribution can be.”

Students also can apply for all sorts of scholarships.

“The most effective way to save money is to research the thousands of available scholarships,” said Lyndsey Sullivan, Connors State College director of College and Community Relations. “The recruitment office at your college and university is the best place to start looking.”

Moore said a variety of scholarships can be found through the Internet.

“Type in ‘scholarship’ on the search engine, be very generic to begin with, then narrow it down,” she said.

“So many students feel they have to be exceptional to get a scholarship,” Moore said. “I’ve had students say ‘It’s a national scholarship, I can’t get that.’ I tell them to go ahead and apply.”

Jack W. Crow, a certified financial planner with Financial Planning Associates, said his son got a soccer scholarship from Bacone.

“He’s not on the soccer team, but he did take care of the grass,” Crow said.

Sullivan suggested starting a college career at a community college.

“A good rule of thumb is that students generally save enough by attending a community college in their first two years to pay for their junior year at a university,” Sullivan said.

Crow and Moore advised against getting student loans because students and families incur a lot of debt.

Parents who start planing their children’s education financing early have far more options.

Crow recommended setting up a savings account.

“The 529 is the most common,” Crow said. “Parents put money back for the education of their dependent children and then take it out tax free.”

 The website for the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan says earnings and distributions on a 529 account are federal and state tax-free. Money contributed to the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan also can be deducted from Oklahoma taxable income.

One advantage to the 529 is its flexibility. For example, if the beneficiary does not make it to college, the account could be used for another child, even a grandchild, he said.

“And it’s not necessarily for higher education but for vo-tech or any type of education that can lead to a career,” Crow said.

Crow said he and an associate offer help through their website, www.fpaok.com.

 Parents also help their children build scholarship potential through the Oklahoma’s Promise program, Moore said. The program pays tuition at an Oklahoma college for students who meet requirements in high school. The program is open for students in the eighth, ninth or 10th grades or home-schooled students ages 13-15. Students must take and pass a college preparatory high school course of study and must avoid drug and alcohol abuse or getting into trouble.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

Helpful websites



• Federal Student Aid, www.fafsa.ed.gov.

• Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan, www.ok4saving.org.