Grant to help students stay on right financial track

students on phoneSUNY Oswego will look to keep students from leaving college, while also helping them learn about personal financial management, under a $49,999 state grant to its Financial Aid Office.

The college applied to the first-ever round of Higher Education Services Corporation Default Prevention Grants and received the maximum amount, said Mark Humbert, Oswego’s director of financial aid.

Humbert said he sees the grant creating programs in a continuum to help serve students better. “There are initiatives to get students to come to Oswego, persist at Oswego, improve their personal money management skills and help our graduates avoid financial troubles after they leave here,” he said.

With grant funding, the Financial Aid Office can try to help students at initial trouble points, such as if they still have open financial aid applications or have not paid their bill when the fall semester starts.

“It’s a proactive approach, before a student gets behind financially and ends up leaving school,” Humbert said. “We’re contacting students, asking them why they are unable to pay and if there are ways we can help. Ultimately, we hope to help students while also raising our retention rate.”

Student workers, paid through the grant, will serve as peer advisers for students having financial challenges, Humbert said, adding students may better connect with their peers in providing advice.

Funding also allows the office’s loan coordinator to go from part time to full time for this year to coordinate implementation of various initiatives.

“The number of students with outstanding bills starting the fall semester has dropped, and we think this initiative is a big reason why,” Humbert said of outreach started this summer. “We also have fewer open aid applications starting the semester, which means that students are completing the necessary paperwork to get the help they need.”

The grant also supports reaching out to educate students about personal financial skills such as making and following budgets, managing debt and avoiding the potential pitfalls of credit cards. Most education will take place via Web-based modules being purchased under the grant.

The program also should reduce later loan defaults by putting students on the right path, Humbert said.

“If students persist in college, they will be more likely to repay their loans,” he said. “But, more important than that, given the value of that degree, students’ futures benefit in every way by graduating.”

Humbert said he thinks one reason SUNY Oswego received the maximum grant is that its application is viewed as a potential model for other financial aid offices if the initiatives prove successful.

While the college will apply for the same funding if it is available next year, Humbert said, in any event, everyone benefits in the future through creating better ways to find and evaluate data and methods to better serve the students.

“Either way, we expect that the initiatives we’re employing that seem to be working will be incorporated into our regular procedures,” he said. 

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PHOTO CAPTION: Peer advice—SUNY Oswego students Jennie Hoffman (left), a senior business administration major, and Jessica Fisher, a senior childhood education major, are part of a grant-funded initiative by the Financial Aid Office to help students in peril of leaving school for financial reasons. The student workers serve as peer advisers to help find solutions for students who either still owe money on their fall bill or have not yet completed a financial aid form for the current year.

(Posted: Sep 19, 2007)