SOMERS — From confusing applications to financial aid restrictions, students at a roundtable at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside on Thursday told U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin about the myriad challenges of going to college.
Baldwin, D-Wis., said she is pushing several bills aimed at easing the burden on students, though whether they will pass Congress remains to be seen.
The most likely measures to get approval, Baldwin said, is an extension of the recently-expired Perkins Loan Program and a reauthorization the Higher Education Act, which administers federal student aid programs.
For some students, help can’t come soon enough.
Brianna Jorgensen, a sophomore at Parkside, said her parents had to dip into their 401(k) accounts last year to help pay for school. She had $4,000 in expenses that weren’t covered by student loans after her Pell grant ran out, she said.
“Affording college has always been a challenge for me since day one,” Jorgensen said.
Zaida Hernandez doesn’t qualify for financial aid under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which applies to some who came to the United States as children.
Hernandez, who attends Gateway Technical College, said it’s been an uphill battle to afford college. She takes 18 credits while working 35 to 40 hours per week.
“I’m becoming an engineer to help the community here, not to go back to my country,” Hernandez said. “So why am I not given the opportunity financially to be successful?”
Several of the roundtable’s 17 students, who represented a cross-section of backgrounds from the campuses of Parkside, Gateway Technical College, Carthage College and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, said applying for federal financial aid is often too confusing.
Britney Woods, a 22-year-old Racine native who is a fourth-year Parkside junior, said she wasn’t familiar with options available until the end of her sophomore year.
“One of the biggest issues is financial literacy amongst working-class families,” Woods said. “I never learned about loans or grants. I never had any of that information.”
Legislation in works
Besides the Perkins Loan Program and Higher Education Act, Baldwin touted measures that would allow refinancing of student loans, make two years of community college free and provide more financial aid for students enrolled in short-duration programs.
She also pushed for simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form and getting students more informed about financial aid.
“In Washington D.C., I hear about all of these efforts to assist high school students in achieving the dream of college,” Baldwin told reporters after the roundtable.
“And yet you hear student after student saying ‘I have no idea how to approach the FASFA financial aid form. I didn’t have anyone who came to talk to me about college,’ “ Baldwin said.
“That’s a disconnect and I’m really concerned about that because we now know that higher education is critical in order to be able to get a family-supporting job.”
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