CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As tuition and costs rise, scholarships and loans are becoming increasingly important to many college students. Students must also think carefully about how much they will take out in loans, since they must pay them back.
"There is a lot of disinformation about loans today. And there is often no parental involvement," said Nicole Rowe, who heads the Upward Bound Program at West Virginia State University.
"Students need to be trained at an earlier age. Students often have no financial literacy," Rowe said during a two-hour education roundtable sponsored by the Federal Student Aid Office and hosted by WVSU on Monday morning.
Angela Holley, director of the Heart of Appalachia Talent Search at Marshall University, said, "Sometimes students would rather go out and work in the mines, rather than go to college."
Both Rowe and Holley believe community groups should be encouraged to be more involved in helping students plan to finance college educations, including the Job Corps, the Boy Scouts and faith-based organizations.
Tod Barnette, principal of Sherman High School in Boone County, said many problems are created in rural areas where technology is not easily available.
"Some students don't have cellphone service or Internet access. Where we don't have this access, many families access their information through the U.S. Postal Service," Barnette said. "And between 10 and 15 percent of our students are being raised by grandparents."
Barnette praised the Clay Center, in Charleston, and the Huntington Museum of Art for providing helpful information and insights to thousands of high school students every year.
Brian Weingart, a member of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, said, "We have a lot of first-generation college students in West Virginia.
"And almost one-half of our students are over 25 years old," Weingart said. "Adults want to go back to school if they lose their jobs or are divorced."
Weingart pointed out that there are three main types of financial aid today: federal, state and institutional.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., sent a message to the meeting stating, "I have fought to protect [federal] Pell Grants and worked to prevent interest for federal student loans debts from rising from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent."
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said that $26,000 was the average debt owed by college students last year. Nationally, the total student debt tops $1 trillion -- more than the $900 billion in national credit card debt.
"Only 50 percent of those of us who go to college graduate," Manchin added. "If you get a degree, you earn about twice as much."
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she also "voted to keep interest rates down on federal student loans."
Capito said students coming out of medical schools today have an average of $180,000 in debts.
"They start going into [higher-paid] specialties because they want to repay their loans. But we also need general practitioners," Capito said.
Monday's roundtable was co-hosted by Maisha Challenger and Fred Stinson, outreach representatives from the U.S. Department of Education.
Some private advisers and consultants charge students up to $300 to help them find and apply for loans.
Challenger urges students to use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid program to document their eligibility for loans.
Each year, the Office of Federal Student Aid awards about $150 billion in grants, work-study funds and low-interest loans to more than 14 million students.
A great deal of information is available, Challenger said, at no cost, at www.studentaid.gov
. College applicants and students may also call, toll-free, 800-4-FED-AID.
Donna Simon, West Virginia State's vice president for university relations, closed the roundtable stating, "These challenges of identifying access to financial aid are very real.
"We want to keep our best and brightest in West Virginia. We need to be getting financial aid to our college students in need. We need to promote an increasing awareness of federal financial aid."
Reach Paul J. Nyden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5164.