Jakobsson hosts financial aid forum

Tracy Stewart of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission speaks to students and parents in the Urbana City Council Chambers on Wednesday night about financial aid. Hosted by Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, the forum discussed scholarships, loans, and filling out Josh Birnbaum

Tracy Stewart of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission speaks to students and parents in the Urbana City Council Chambers on Wednesday night about financial aid. Hosted by Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, the forum discussed scholarships, loans, and filling out Josh Birnbaum

By Meghan O'Kelly

The Urbana City Council Chambers provided a venue for a different type of legislator Wednesday evening as State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-103, hosted a financial aid forum for a packed crowd of both students and parents.

Jakobsson said although economic indicators are beginning to show improvement, the steady rise in college tuition has caused the need for students to look beyond their families to fund their post-secondary education.

“With people finding themselves doing more and more with less and less, it’s important that our recourses are being utilized as they should be,” Jakobsson said. “Affordability and accountability in education is something that I will continue to work for.”

Jakobsson introduced Tracy Stewart, the program outreach coordinator for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, who began the by seminar detailing how to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The application, better known as FAFSA, is the only step necessary to receive Federal Pell Grants, the largest federal grant, and Monetary Award Program grants, the largest need-based grant program in Illinois.

According to University Director of Financial Aid Dan Mann, after about five years of FAFSA being online, 92 percent of the forms are now submitted via the Internet. Following the forum, he said technology has sped up the financial aid process by allowing one week to process online FAFSA submissions instead of four to six weeks for the paper applications. The online application has come with a reduction in application errors, but Mann said students need to continue to take interest in their financial situation once the form is complete.

“It’s very important for students to read their e-mail and respond promptly,” he said. “There are refund checks that are waiting for students to pick them up.”

Along with the FAFSA, both presenters stressed the importance of applying for private scholarships along with the federal form, which is mandatory for many universities.

“I’d rather spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon writing essays than work all school year to make that much money,” Stewart said.

She said the Federal Work-Study program is an option for students, but campus jobs are typically low paying and student loans can become overwhelming very quickly.

Mann agreed and said loans should be the financing method of last resort.

“We are becoming very concerned about the amount of student loans and credit cards,” Mann said. “Think about the long term consequences of these things.”

Both speakers also focused on how funding a college education should be a partnership between the parent and the student, and the fact that financial aid information is in the students’ name means they need to be aware of their obligations and responsibilities.

“Remember that college is the beginning of your adulthood,” Mann told the students in attendance. “It’s really about life.”

Nancy McClellan-Hickey and her daughter Erin Hickey, a senior at Urbana High School, attended the forum to see what options were available to fund a college education besides taking out loans.

“I hate to see kids start out with a lot of student loans,” McClellan-Hickey said.

She said her daughter and her had a new sense of optimism after attending the presentation.

“I’m really glad this event was put on,” McClellan-Hickey said. “It’s a real service to the community.”