Published on 2013/04/22

“Can I Afford It?” Adults Financing Their Higher Education

“Can I Afford It?”  Adults Financing Their Higher Education
While there are not as many financial aid resources available to adult students as there are for traditional-age learners, adults can certainly finance their education by making wise decisions and asking for help.

Adult students often juggle many roles: parent, employee, caretaker for aging parents and even sole financial provider to their families. The stress of everyday life can be difficult to handle, but when you add the financial decision to go back to school on top of that, it can be overwhelming. As they make important decisions about going back to school, adult students need to understand their current financial picture and how the financial assistance process works in the world of higher education.  As adult students prepare to finance their higher education, there are many potential advantages and disadvantages to their situation. Many adult students bring life experiences that help them to know which questions to ask a college professional; however, the unfamiliar terminology in financial aid might frustrate and discourage some. Additionally, adult students may be more motivated to pay off student loan debts as it joins any of their existing financial obligations, but poor budgeting may not allow them to pay back their loans as quickly as they have planned.

At Elgin Community College (ECC), financial outreach and counseling are key components to the services provided within the financial services department. There are many steps an adult student should take before beginning coursework at a higher education institution. The following are a few key steps to include:

1. Create a personal budget

Students need to understand how their income will change as they begin their commitment to coursework. Will they continue to work and perhaps attend school part-time? What are their fixed and variable expenses? Are there any savings that can contribute to their cost of education? ECC provides workshops for community members to learn budgeting skills, and financial aid advisors review a budget worksheet with every student who requests a federal student loan. Budgeting is a lifelong tool.

2. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and pursue scholarships

Many adult students believe they are ineligible for federal student financial assistance because they are at a non-traditional age or have attended another institution. This is not true. All students who desire financial assistance need to complete the FAFSA for access to federal grants and loans. There are many financial assistance programs and scholarships that require the FAFSA to be completed. ECC has free FAFSA workshops throughout the year, presented by financial aid experts who walk students step-by-step through the application. This is a valuable support to our community and one that all higher education institutions should consider performing.

3. Monitor how much you borrow in student loans

Every college awards student loans differently, which can be very confusing to students. Adult students may have savings or employment wages to assist in paying for college. Therefore, adult students need to understand how much they actually need to borrow while they attend college and what their responsibilities are as a borrower. All students should receive personal counseling on interest rates and repayment options before and after they receive their student loans. ECC requires all students who wish to take out a federal student loan to attend a one-on-one counseling session with an advisor to discuss their specific financial situation. Additionally, as students graduate from ECC, the financial aid office contacts them to discuss their total loan, repayment options and important contact information about their lenders. This concentration on loan counseling is crucial to all students and should be required by all institutions of higher education.

Adult students need to understand that it is not impossible to finance their education. It is never too late to advance your education. Making wise financial decisions by turning to the experts within the institution is important to any student’s success.

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Readers Comments

Eric Csergo 2013/04/22 at 10:31 am

ECC’s budgeting worksheets sound like an incredibly useful tool, not just for non-traditional students but for their traditional counterparts as well. I hope this is something offered to all postsecondary students at many more institutions.

Chelsea Bellows 2013/04/22 at 2:32 pm

FAFSA is often misunderstood or mischaracterized, as is a lot of financial aid that exists. This is unfortunate, as it means large amounts of money in scholarships and grants go unclaimed each year. Institutions need to do a better job of alerting their students to financial assistance options. We can’t expect students to know what’s out there, so financial services departments need to start thinking of how they can be proactive in connecting students with existing opportunities.

Ursula V.F. 2013/04/22 at 9:58 pm

What an institution really needs is advisors who are trained to understand non-traditional students’ financial situations and the financial pressures that may be unique to them. Adult students are an increasingly important demographic for universities/colleges, which need to start offering relevant services and supports if they hope to continue attracting this core group.

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