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Students, faculty talk financial aid drawbacks, share hope for future

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A college degree makes a massive difference in terms of your success, and, unfortunately, the high price tag prevents a lot of people from attending. And that price is rising fast.

According to Forbes, the average price of a four-year degree has doubled from 1989 to 2016, even after adjusting for inflation.

Louisiana has financial aid programs, such as the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS), government loans, the Go Grant and the Pell Grant, to help deal with this problem.

According to the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance, TOPS is a program that helps pay for college tuition for any Louisiana resident who has a minimum of a 2.50-grade point average in their core classes in high school and a 20 on the ACT.

The Pell Grant gives money to students who are looking to attend college but don’t have the financial support needed to do so. Unlike with loans, the money does not need to be repaid.

According to DeWayne Bowie, Ph.D., approximately 80% of students get some kind of financial aid, and about 6,000 students receive the Pell Grant at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. UL Lafayette’s communication and marketing website said there were 19,387 students enrolled in the fall 2018 semester. That means roughly 30% of students receive the grant.

“(Without financial aid), the enrollment across the nation would plummet,” Bowie said. “That’s what’s keeping students in school.”

Amanda McBay, an English major at UL Lafayette, is one of these students.

“Without financial aid, without loans and all that, I wouldn’t be able to be here at all,” McBay said.

Bowie said the financial aid students are currently receiving is not nearly enough.

“Financial aid has definitely not kept up pace with the increases in the cost of education, and so what happens is that leaves students with a larger gap that students need to cover,” he said.

However, some said the financial aid department at UL Lafayette has some issues.

“The people at the front need to be more aware of how they’re talking to people, how they’re directing people, McBay said, adding the system seems “disorganized.”

Sculpture major Desean Bruce also had complaints.

“It’s alright. It could use a little improvement,” Bruce said, “Streamlining the process would probably make it better.”

Bowie said the university has taken steps to solve this problem.

“We did just purchase a brand new student information system, and so the process over the last couple years has become a lot more efficient and I think we have a lot more efficiencies coming in the future with things we are doing to streamline the process for our students,” Bowie said.

Bowie added the federal government has started to allow students to submit their financial aid forms much earlier than before, which will allow students’ financial aid forms to be processed well ahead of time if they take advantage of this.

“For instance, students can now begin to submit their financial aid applications for next year, which is fall 2020,” Bowie said. “They can start submitting that in October of this year.”

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