Bernadette Russoniello

By Bernadette Russoniello

I can’t afford college.”

“I didn’t apply. I didn’t think I could afford it.”

These comments resound among students in Maricopa and present a challenge for parents and educators. News media is filled with reports on the rising costs of college and the declining worth of college degrees – and students are internalizing the message. Giving up; abandoning hope and potential without even considering the options.

However, many of our Maricopa students have plenty of affordable options; they simply do not realize it.

Maricopa Unified School District is a Title I district, indicating 50 percent or more of students qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch programs. These students are highly likely to qualify for the Federal Pell Grant – an award of up to $5,920 annually – for the pursuit of college, university or trade school programs.

Many colleges and universities provide matching funds for qualifying students. Northern Arizona University awards “University Grants” of $6,000 to students who receive Pell Grants. Arizona State University offers College Attainment grants that cover all direct costs and fees. Numerous Maricopa graduates receive more funds in grants than the actual cost of attendance.

The more competitive the school is, the greater the financial award. Competitive colleges accept fewer than 35 percent of applicants and usually have more intense requirements for college admissions. Many of these schools cover 100 percent of financial need. Consider Harvard, America’s oldest and most prestigious college. Harvard’s Financial Aid Initiative requires no contribution from families earning less than $65,000 per year. For families earning under $150,000, students will pay no more than 10 percent of their income to cover college costs, making the most coveted school’s attendance cost lower than in-state universities. The only catch? You have to be accepted.

If a student doesn’t apply for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), he or she will never know what awards they might be eligible for. The application process does not commit students or parents to accept awards; it simply informs families of what aid is available. Students can apply anytime; for rising seniors (current juniors), the application window opens Oct. 1, 2018.

If a student wants to earn these scholarships, they need to set that goal early. Before even attending high school, a student should decide to take the most rigorous classes and to earn the best grades they can. NAU offers the Lumberjack Scholarship to students who meet all university admissions requirements and maintain all A’s and B’s in core classes. Having this goal set before starting ninth grade helps students attain their best performance.

Bernadette Russoniello is the Career and College coordinator at Maricopa High School. She can be reached at BRussoniello@MUSD20.org.


This column appears in the May issue of InMaricopa. 

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