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More college-bound Vermonters appealing financial aid offers

Published: May. 5, 2021 at 4:45 PM EDT
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BERKSHIRE, Vt. (WCAX) - More college-bound Vermonters than ever before are struggling to make ends meet due to COVID, and paying for school can feel like it’s beyond budget. One organization is helping some families close the gap.

“You really have to be an advocate for your child and pump them up to the school, and say, ‘Look, you’re going to be lucky to get this kid,’ which is the truth with Ben, but you really do have to sell your kid,” said Anne Ewins Larivee of Berkshire.

Ewins Larivee spoke to me on behalf of her son, Ben, a senior at Enosburg Falls High School. He’s been so busy working to save up for college, he couldn’t find time for an interview.

And just as money is on the mind now, it was a concern for all the Larivees when Ben said he had his heart set on attending Clarkson University this fall.

“Clarkson was the most expensive of all the schools we looked at, but they really worked with us the most,” Anne said.

In fact, the Larivees were forced to appeal their financial aid package with Clarkson three times. Finally, the cost fell in their budget.

“They came up with more money, and when they did come up with more money, that made the decision much easier,” Anne said.

The Larivees are just one Vermont family of about 120 so far this year who have requested a better deal to pay for their student’s degree, according to the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation.

Last year, VSAC says more than 1,200 families asked to appeal their financial aid offer compared to between 160 and 200 requests the year before.

“We absolutely saw need go through the roof,” said Marilyn Cargill, the vice president of financial aid services, marketing and research at VSAC.

Cargill says the reason so many families are forced to appeal their financial aid offers is that applications require income information from two years prior.

“Well, 2019 is way pre-pandemic,” she said.

Since then, families have lost jobs or changed in size, key considerations in the financial aid process.

Cargill says nationally, first-generation college students are feeling most of the pressure as their parents statistically were most impacted by the pandemic, working in trade or service jobs.

“Appealing financial aid-- it’s fairly easy,” Cargill said. “It’s reaching out to your school and to VSAC, and if you’re applying to more than one school, you reach out to all of them, and letting them know what’s going on.”

Cargill says so far, colleges across the country have proved generous in coming to a compromise.

Students who successfully appealed Vermont state grants last year received, on average, an additional $2,000 in state grant aid. This past academic year, VSAC awarded $2.2 million in appeals and awarded another $1.5 million in technology scholarships using state-allocated CARES funding.

The organization normally receives $19.9 million in state appropriation for the state grant programs. The $2.2 million in appeals was gifted in addition to the grants awarded in a typical year.

At this time, it’s unclear is VSAC will receive extra state or federal funds for students starting college in the fall.

VSAC counselors like Kate Rowland help students navigate the application and financial aid processes. Rowland says she’s noticed some feel safer staying close to home while the uncertainty of COVID still looms, rather than attend an out-of-state college or university. Meanwhile, she says many high schools seniors say they’re joining the military. Rowland also helps families like the Larivees appeal their financial aid packages.

“Oh it’s so rewarding! It really is. Just making these small suggestions to families that maybe they haven’t thought of, can make a world of difference to them,” Rowland said.

She says so far this year, all of her students in Franklin County have received a financial aid package that gets them into the college of their dreams -- students like Ben Larivee.

And his mom offers advice to other families feeling the financial strain. “Have your child fill out as many scholarships as possible that pertain to him or her,” Ewins Larivee said.

For more information, visit VSAC’s website.

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