Preparing Students Financially for College

Over the course of this month, you’ll hear from financial aid experts about how their organizations are tackling this incredibly important step in the college-going process.

How does your organization help students, particularly those from underserved communities, to financially prepare for college?

The Butler Community College Financial Aid office takes the information out to the community and beyond, providing financial aid information in the evenings at 40 different high school programs throughout our service area and beyond. This is a neutral presentation that does not promote Butler over other educational institutions, but provides information on how to gain access to financial assistance and keep student loan debt at a minimum.

Our financial aid counselors will sit down with parents at computer terminals and assist them in completing the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) online to eliminate errors and improve processing time for individual students.

Programming that is provided by our financial aid office is engaging and interactive. For instance, the office created a “PLINKO game” where students drop four tokens into the game and then add up the results to so they can see how quickly student loan debt can add up. We use this as a way to encourage them to not take loans that are not needed.  We also hand out bubble gum with the game encouraging students to “Don’t Blow Your Budget!”  Keeping students and parents engaged in the conversation is the key to effectiveness!

What’s the most common question that students ask about how to pay for college? How do you answer this question?

Some college students often make assumptions on who is going to pay for their college education. The assumption is that their parents will be able to pay, however, they have never had a conversation with their parents about that expectation.  When I visit with students about paying for college, I always encourage them to have a conversation with their parents about what expectations that they, the student, have from their parents and then listen to the expectations that their parents have of them as a student.

With all students, I share that the person responsible for paying for their education is themselves. If they are a dependent student, then there is an expectation that their parents will assist in that expense. If the resources of the student and the parents are not enough to cover the cost of their education, then there are other resources in terms of scholarships, grants, and loans that should be explored. We discuss the FASFA, the Pell Grant, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Federal Work-Study, and Student Loans as options for assisting them with covering the cost of college.

What advice would you give your 16-year-old self about how to finance your college education?

The advice I would give myself is that engaging in all of the social activities in attending college are fun, but they can also be expensive. I was fortunate to have resources to help pay for my education in terms of academic scholarships, activity scholarships, and work-study.  I also received a state grant to assist in the tuition differential between a public university and the private college. I borrowed money from my parents to cover the remaining balance and then paid back my parents’ loan with no interest. I could have borrowed less money if I would have saved more money from the work that I was doing instead of spending it on social activities at the local bar. I enjoyed my college experience. I think I would have still enjoyed my college experience with less time spent at the local establishment and more time engaging in free activities sponsored by the college.

What other organization(s) or agency(s) deserves some recognition for the good work that they are doing in this field?

In Kansas, I believe Kansas Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (KASFAA), should receive a lot of credit for the work that they do to inform all individuals wanting to attend a college or university the availability of resources to assist with the cost of higher education. Additionally, Kansas Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, host a number of College Planning Conferences across the state for students to explore all educational opportunities in Kansas. This organization ensures that a KASFAA representative is available at these conferences to answer general questions about financial assistance.

Bill Rinkenbaugh has served as the vice president of student services at Butler Community College for the past 27 years. He currently serves as the higher education representative on the Northwest District Steering Committee for ACT State Organizations. Bill has also served on the USD 402 Board of Education in Augusta, Kansas for the past 12 years.