Morgan Pualani plans to go to Central Washington University in Ellensburg next fall. Of this, she is a little bit certain. She has taken all of the necessary steps that high school seniors are encouraged to complete in order to receive an affordable college education.
Pualani, 18, knows that the current administration is especially interested in making college more affordable and is aware of the steps taken by the state government to help students pay for college.
But, in light of the economic state of the nation, she is not necessarily an optimist about paying for her education.
She fears rejection from private scholarships and even public aid. She is uncertain of the future of her education.
Pualani is a senior at Yakima Valley's AC Davis High School, a school that has enough low-income students in the population that there is a scholarship program at the school that is geared specifically for students from low-income backgrounds. The Achiever's Scholarship is offered through the College Success Foundation (CSF) in an attempt to bolster the numbers of students that are able to attend and afford college.
Pualani has the Achiever's Scholarship, but that does not make her sure of the education she will be able to receive after high school.
"I know there's millions of dollars of unclaimed scholarships, what I fear more is not qualifying. I have been led to believe that because I'm a minority with an extremely mixed racial background that organizations will fall over themselves to give me money," Pualani says, "but I'm not confident on an academic level [that I would] actually qualify."
Aside from the economic situation her large family faces, she describes both parents as "basically unemployed", Pualani is afraid not receiving aid or scholarship outside of the Achiever's Scholarship. She is not alone.
In the midst of the direst economic crisis in memory, it is natural for Americans to wonder what the future will hold.
The economic downturn has created an air of uncertainty for high school students and has changed the way that they, their parents, and their mentors think about affording college. For young students coming from low-income backgrounds, their paths to a college education might appear even more conflicted.
Deborah Wilds, President and Chief Operating Officer of the CSF, is realistic about the chances of low-income students to continue their progress towards college degrees. She hopes that the CSF, which provides scholarship aid for low-income students across Washington State, will continue to provide significant support to the students that the foundation serves. Wilds anticipates that some programs will need to be retooled to cope with the loss of some donor money, but feels that the number of students being helped into a college education will not change.
"You have a larger pool of folks considered working class, middle class, or low income," Wilds explains, going on to say that resources that have provided aid in the past have been shrinking.
This is all due to the economy. She sees the number of students applying for aid increasing. She sees the endowments at public and private colleges shrinking.
"It's a perfect storm," Wilds explains.
Yet, the Obama administration has promised to extend federal money towards college students, which Wilds believes will show an increase in the need-based Pell Grants that are awarded by the government to low-income students every year.
She concedes that the situation for prospective college students is not necessarily positive, but asserts that the role of her foundation in particular will not abandon students in their quest for a college education. Wilds explains, "I am hopeful that donors will see the increased need for students to go to college."
College and high school counselors have noted the dramatic increase in students and parents filling out application for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA website reports a 20 percent increase in applications for the 2009-1010 school year. The looming threat of parental layoffs and the daily up and down motion of the stock market has contributed to the increased fear and anxiety when it comes to paying for college.
According to the College Board website, a tool for both students and parents when it comes to learning about applying and paying for college, the cost of going to college is rising. The site explains that the cost of college for the 2008-2009 school year went up by more than a thousand dollars for some institutions.
Yet they too mention a bright spot to these kinds of statistics—the sheer amount of aid available to students. The authors for the site explain that with federal aid and private scholarships, the daunting numbers at even private institutions can be decreased by almost half. This is not something that has changed---yet.
Janet Cantelon is the director of financial students at Seattle University, a private institution. She also explains the mixed bag of positive and negative developments that the economic crisis has brought onto the prospects of low-income students in Washington.
"Well, we know one thing. The U.S. Department of Education did publish the Pell Grant tables for next year," Cantelon says, adding that the maximum award amount for the Pell Grant has increased by hundreds of dollars, which she calls a good thing.
"Right now, we are expecting the State Need Grant maximum to stay the same as this year for private schools. At the state schools, the grant level may go up slightly. We also know that the two state revitalizing financial aid bills are getting closer," Cantelon explains.
Both of these bills propose to do just that—to revitalize and expand the impacts of state and federal aid for college students. In Washington State, there are two bills that have been introduced recently that seek to improve and expand the availability and amount of financial aid available to college students. Cantelon sees this as a bright spot for current and future college students.
But there are not answers yet about what will happen to Seattle University, an institution with a shrinking endowment that was last year capable of handing out over 18 million dollars in aid to its freshman class.
No one is yet able to answer how these kinds of numbers will change for the students that will soon sign letters of intent to go to college in the fall.
At high schools across the state, students have had to consider what rising college costs and increasing difficulty in finding college aid will mean for their own futures.
Riley Haggard, who works for the CSF as a college preparatory associate, helps students of Mariner High School in Everett as they make their way through the application process for colleges and financial assistance.
"Our students are very eager to start college, many of them have the Achiever's Scholarship and are eligible for plenty of free aid, so they are not overly concerned about paying for college," Haggard explains, saying that overall, students are optimistic about college and their futures, "Many of them realize the importance of getting a Bachelor's Degree."
At Kittitas High School, CSF adviser Evelyn Heflen has not even noted a change in the way students approach their college aspirations, "I believe there has been little or no adjustment in student thinking. They seem to believe that the economy will swing back up again."
The CSF adviser at Tonasket High School says that many students are unsure and scared about college, but not necessarily about paying for it. Rebecca Hightower explains that low-income students have always struggled with finances.
In light of the economic woes of the nation she believes that there won't be that much of an impact on students. "I even have hope that there will be more federal and state grants available," Hightower explains.
The opinions concerning how low-income students paying for college in the coming year are just as mixed as the potential pros and cons that have risen in respect to the trends for financial aid next year.
With the rest of the nation patiently waiting to see what happens with their houses, jobs, and other commodities, the apprehension for these students is for a concept that is not yet tangible, but is just as vital to their future.
Morgan Pualani aspires to someday speak six languages. She would try to be a veterinarian, but hates doing math, so for the last few years she has toyed with the idea of being a librarian or language teacher. Whatever changing plans she's ever had have become even less certain in light of the current economic crisis that she sees every day in the news.
Pualani still has her language-bound dreams, but plans of being a linguist teaching students in a foreign country seem farther than usual.
"Barack Obama is a big supporter for education and I don't believe that too much would be taken away from that. I am scared that may [happen] in a few months," Pualani explains, "I need to get over that but for now I'll stick to ignoring it."