You may have noticed that Cochise College advertising this year asks the question “What will you find?” The theme features an array of students and a magnifying glass that encourages close examination, and it has appeared on everything from a kiosk at The Mall at Sierra Vista and a monthly high school mailer to radio ads and print publications. The beauty of this campaign is that it allows for a wide variety of interpretations on the part of both the viewer and the institution.
Meet Your Major might sound like your typical campus tour/recruiting event, but there is a greater urgency for efforts like these to effectively trigger college and career decisions. It isn’t so much for the health of the college as it is for the well-being of students and the future workforce.
That’s because the result of recent, and potentially ongoing, changes in federal financial aid is a tightening of the belt regarding distribution of funding. In the past, students could be eligible to receive a Pell grant for as many semesters as they were enrolled in college. However, the government has reduced the qualifying automatic zero Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which gives you the maximum Pell grant award, household income from $30,000 to $23,000 and modified the number of semesters for which students may be Pell eligible to 12. At Cochise, the Financial Aid Office awarded nearly $7.7 million in Pell funding to 2,300-plus students in 2010-2011, and 31 percent of fall 2011 students received the grant, which does not have to be repaid.
The new regulations mean that students who have received a Pell grant for 12 semesters but not completed a bachelor’s degree within that timeframe will need to find another way to pay for the additional education they need, whether it be interest-bearing loans, whose rates are increasing; scholarships; or money from their own pockets.
That makes a strong case for setting a goal and pursuing it. It means there is less flexibility and time for exploring and a greater focus on completion and entering the workforce.
It’s our sense that the public has only a limited awareness of the changing availability of financial aid and how it will impact students. In the most ideal of situations, students will commit to a course of study, pursue it in a timely manner that doesn’t require them to take out loans or pay out of pocket, and enter the workforce. Others may jump right in but find it difficult to decide what area of study and career they are inclined to pursue. Still others may put off school until they’re more certain that the money or grants that they put toward education is going toward something that they really want to do.
What challenges do we expect? We anticipate a need for better academic preparation of the students who come to us, as there will be less Pell-eligible time for them to “catch up” in pre-college-level courses. We expect a need for improved planning, earlier decision-making, and greater focus on the part of students, a task for everyone from parents and teachers to educational institutions to tackle. Finally, we expect a greater need for general scholarships to help fill the gap left by shrinking federal and state financial aid packages.
Cochise College has always taken pride in its efforts to reach out to students at their level, and we will continue to ensure that you find that here, recognizing that it will take the efforts of many individuals to step up to the expectations of goal attainment or risk falling behind.
J.D. Rottweiler is president of Cochise College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.