One of the most popular topics in our Latinos in College Questions’ forum
is “Getting Money and Financial Aid for College.” I’m not surprised, given the complexity of this issue and the fact that, according to the Pew Hispanic Fund, financial pressure to support the family
is the number one reason students drop out of high school and don’t enroll in college. It’s also often the reason why they drop out of college soon after they start.
And although it’s hard to focus on grades when your family depends on your income to put food on the table, I believe the bigger problem is that most of our families don’t know any better.
The truth is that it’s difficult to learn how things really work when you’re surrounded by others who know as little as you do. This happens when immigrant communities stick together rather than immersing themselves within the larger community.
On the positive side, this cohesion offers a shared sense of culture and tradition and the comfort of a common language. Small businesses thrive as they sell goods and services to their own people.
On the flip side, it takes the group longer to learn the rules (some written, some not) of the social contract. As much as this social contract might have been damaged by the recent economic downturn, there are certain principles that still apply: namely, those with college degrees do better than those without. So families must do whatever it takes to help their children attain a higher education diploma.
But when you don’t interact with members of the community who traditionally have a larger percentage of college degrees, you are less likely to have connections that can guide you and your kids through the complexities of the system. People who could tell you that you need to save money in a 529 account or consider prepaying for college
from the time your kids are born. That your children could take double credits
while they are still in high school that will count towards their first semester or their first year in college at a fraction of the cost.
You are less likely to find out that keeping high grades, doing well on the SAT/ACT, volunteering at non-profit organizations, and getting involved in extra-curricular activities will increase your children’s chances of being admitted to colleges with deeper pockets. Or that starting at a community college to improve their GPA
while they fulfill their general education credits is a great option if they commit to transferring to a four-year school. (According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, a four-year degree is the degree that makes a real income difference and lowers by half your probability of being unemployed.) Or that you should look into the availability of Early College High Schools
in your area, where after 5 years your kid could graduate with a high school diploma and Associates Degree for free.
Or that if your child is undocumented you could create a fundraising portfolio
, or use an application such as Chipin
to raise money.
When you lack the connections, it’s easier to feel overwhelmed and to reach the conclusion that you can’t afford to pay for your kid’s college. And I’m not denying that the process is cumbersome. But LIC frequently receives requests for basic information from people who live in states like Florida, which has a great scholarship program called Bright Futures
. Something they are not aware about because they don’t know what they don’t know.
Hopefully, it’s not too late for you to develop these relationships regardless of what side of the equation you are on. Could you share the knowledge you have with high school parents who need some handholding? If so, I encourage you to reach out to your local school today.
Is your child going to college soon and you have no clue how to pay for it? The LATINA Style
community is full of potential mentors. And you can always post your questions on our Forum
. That’s what we are here for.