College is an investment, and for many Cal Poly students, college is an investment with interest.
Last year, 10,861 Cal Poly students used some kind of financial aid, amounting to $136 million. Already this year 9,670 students have received some type of financial aid and without it, some students could not attend college, director of financial aid Lois Kelly said.
“We have a lot of alumnus coming back and saying they couldn’t make it through Cal Poly without financial aid,” she said.
Financial aid is an umbrella term for different kinds of aid including grants, scholarships, loans and work-study, Kelly said. Grants and scholarships are gift funds that do not require repayment, while loans have interest.
The money for the various channels of financial aid also comes from mixed funders like federal, state, institutional and private sources, Kelly said. Still, the federal government’s program, Federal Student Aid and its Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is one of the most popular processes for Cal Poly students to pay for education. The 2013-2014 Cal Poly student costs of tuition and other estimated costs is $24,177 for undergraduate and $25,443 for graduate students.
The application calls for information including tax figures and demographic and biological background. It also requires most males between the ages of 18-26 to be registered with a Selective Service.
And for some students who are new to the application, like biological sciences senior Patricia Fahey, filling out the information online can be complicated, she said.
“Luckily, the person at (Cal Poly’s) financial aid office was the nicest lady of anyone I’ve dealt with at Cal Poly,” she said. “I went there and talked to them after I received my FAFSA and asked what everything meant.”
Fahey enjoyed her previous years at Cal Poly without taking out a student loan, but is experiencing a new perspective on school now that she has the financial aid, she said.
“Every dollar I spend at the bookstore when buying books, I think, ‘I have to pay this dollar back and with interest.’ So $20 planners just aren’t an option anymore,” she said.
Fahey’s increased value of a financial aid dollar has also encouraged her to try harder in school, she said.
“I used to visit my boyfriend more and go to the beach with my friends, but now I just do work and read biology all day, because I need to do better in school to pay back my loans,” she said. “Having a student loan makes me want to find a job right after I graduate.”
Fahey was hesitant to accept her student loan because she heard about huge debts. However, there was no other option, she said.
But financial need isn’t the only criteria for receiving funds. According to the California State University (CSU) mentor website, the federal government guarantees student loans. Because there are repayment obligations with loans, lending to students is “a relatively attractive and limited-risk alternative for lending institutions and the federal government,” the website said.
The United States Department of Education was in furlough during the recent government shutdown and was not available for press comments. But, as for the state of financial aid, the department predicts a limited impact to FAFSA, the delivery of federal student aid or to the federal student loan repayment action, the Department of Education website said.
However, when a student receives a loan, they are not obliged to use the funds. Kinesiology junior Brenna Keane has been offered a student loan each year she applies, but chooses to keep the funds on standby, she said.
“The longer I can do without loans, the better,” she said.
Instead, Keane pays for tuition, rent and all other college and living expenses with money earned from part-time and full-time jobs, she said. Since she was 16 years old, Keane has worked full-time every summer and pays tuition with her savings. While at Cal Poly, she works 20 hours a week, which covers her living expenses, she said.
“I think it’s a good thing that I’ve had to do it,” she said. “I’m very financially aware of everything. It’d be convenient to not have to pay for college; kids who don’t pay get to enjoy college a little bit more, but I have a different perspective because of it.”
Though Keane hasn’t had to utilize her loan, she continues to apply for FAFSA in case her current income resources change, but her goal is to graduate without debt, she said.
“It’s more stressful, and I obviously have a lot less free time than my friends; I spend all my time working,” she said. “Working 20 hours a week is basically like having two extra classes. It’s anywhere from having four to eight extra units.”