More students, parents ask for more aid

Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Union Leader

By Dan Tuohy

The economy has more New Hampshire college students scrambling for financial aid, some right up until they head to campus.

Colleges are doing what they can to meet the need, in some cases being flexible and getting creative to help.

In the competitive world of higher education, like the marketplace at large, administrators tell of families delaying decisions as they weigh options and review available finances.

One enrollment director described it as a matter of "sticker shock."

Paul J. LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, said more students and parents are calling to appeal financial aid awards, sometimes going as far as to ask whether another institution's offers can be matched.

"The other thing we're seeing is very prolonged and tortuous decision-making," LeBlanc said. "It's an interesting, complicated year."

The financial strain in New Hampshire, which reflects what is going on nationwide, is really part of a two-year trend, said Brad Poznanski, vice president for marketing and enrollment management at Saint Anselm College.

Saint Anselm's enrollment numbers are on target for September, but the college is not covering 100 percent of aid requests.

"Even when we come close, it's still a stretch for many families," Poznanski said.

Classes resume Monday at the University of New Hampshire, and there are still students who have yet to complete the financial aid application process, UNH Director of Financial Aid Susan Allen said. Many others have submitted appeals, she said.

"Appeals are reviewed daily and while we don't have exact numbers of how many appeals we have received, they have unquestionably increased this year," Allen said.

To date, UNH has processed 10,760 aid applications and awarded $32,756,294 in need-based institutional and Supplemental Equal Opportunity Grant (for students in dire fiscal straits, which do not have to be paid back), according to Allen.

At this time last year, UNH processed 9,945 applications for a total $25,168,803.

The financial strain is evident in the numbers of returning students who are applying for aid for the first time, said Shannon Reid, spokeswoman for the Community College System of New Hampshire. She reported a dramatic increase in the number of students seeking appeals for aid. In response, the system is adding more staff hours to process requests and to counsel students.

"We're increasing our efforts to make sure students know about scholarship opportunities that may be available through our Community Colleges of New Hampshire Foundation," she said.

Fiscal constraints on traditional sources led to a new initiative at Keene State College.

Since the spring term, the Keene State College community has raised nearly $188,000 to help some students who are under financial strain return to campus. Of 71 donors to date, 65 are individuals; 37 donations came from staff and faculty, including emeriti.

"One point that I think is telling is that these were not just new scholarship gifts, but in most cases they were made in addition to gifts already made," said Maryann Lindberg, vice president for advancement at Keene State. "Donors were also not just major donors, but in some cases were employees with modest incomes."

Pat Blodgett, director of Student Financial Services at Keene State, said the new initiative helped more than 100 families.

Since June 30, 2008, Blodgett said there has been a 32 percent increase in financial aid appeals from students and families whose economic circumstances have changed since their financial aid packages were awarded. Her office reviews each one on a case-by-case basis.

As a result of the appeals process and reviews, there was a 25 percent increase in KSC students who are now eligible for Pell Grants, and as a result of those additional students qualifying, the college has seen an increase of more than $1 million in Pell funding, according to Blodgett's office.

Financial aid directors welcome the calls, especially if a student's economic situation changes, and they may be eligible for additional aid.

Allen, director of financial aid at UNH, encourages students and families to keep in contact.

"If things change financially, students need to notify us," she said. "Often families think that if they have received an aid package, then that's the end for the year. However, if things change, we can make changes throughout the year, so again, the best advice is for families to be in touch with the aid office."

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