In today’s current economic state, we see too many of California’s programs and services being cut. For example, funding for our state’s higher education system has been reduced for the sixth year in a row. Additionally, students often feel they are fighting a constant battle between furthering their education and actually being able to pay for it. Some students end up dropping out of college because they don’t know about the financial aid available to help pay for it and see cost as a barrier to entry.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Millions of dollars of financial aid go unused each year.
This money could assist those interested in furthering their education or beginning a new
career. As a union official, I understand the importance of a well-educated workforce. Continuing education after high school or taking advantage of the career training available if you’re looking to re-enter the workforce is critical.
That’s one of the reasons the Southern California District Council of Laborers created the Mike Quevedo, Sr. Scholarship Fund for sons and daughters of all Laborers that can be used for study at any accredited U.S. College or University, community college or certified vocational trade school or institute. And, it’s why we support the “I Can Afford College” campaign, a statewide financial aid awareness initiative sponsored by the California Community Colleges.
The “I Can Afford College” campaign educates current and prospective students that financial aid is available year-round at California’s community colleges to help students pay for fees, books, supplies, and sometimes even rent.
The heart of the campaign is a bilingual English and Spanish website, www.icanaffordcollege.com. The website provides current and prospective students with valuable financial aid information and connects them with financial aid professionals at their local college to receive free one-on-one assistance with the application process.
Detailed information and applications on the website enable students to apply online for federal, state and community college financialaid. Students who do not have Internet access can call 1-800-987-ICAN (4226) to get connected with a local community college financial aid office in their area.
As the state’s largest provider of career training, community colleges play an integral role in California’s economic recovery by re-training the unemployed to work in growing industries such as health care and green technology. Nearly 3 million students each year attend the 112 community college campuses in California and give themselves and their family an opportunity for a brighter future. Those who earn a vocational degree or certificate often witness an increase in job security and higher wages and are therefore contributing to a stronger California.
Latinos now make up more than half of the students in California’s public schools and roughly 30 percent of California’s community college enrollment. However, of those enrolled in community college, only 45 percent receive financial aid, leaving a large portion of students who are not taking advantage of the financial aidopportunities available.
Many Latinos wrongly assume they can’t afford college or they won’t qualify for financial aid. Others simply don’t know financial aid is available to help them pay for college.
In fact, a recent study by The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute highlighted that three-fourths of Latino youth not currently in college, would have gone had they known about financial aid resources available to them.
It is essential to raise awareness among the Latino community about the availability of financial aid in order to increase the number of students attending community college and entering or re-entering the workforce. The Institute for College Access & Success recently released a study that said if all California community college students who were eligible for a Pell Grant applied and received grants, up to $500 million more dollars would have flowed into California’s economy during 2009-10. That’s federal money that could have been infused directly into our local communities.
If you know someone who wants to go to community college or if you want to go yourself, don’t let finances discourage you from pursuing your dreams. Survey after survey have shown that Latinos place a high value on education, but partly because of financial barriers, many in our community still fall short of a college education. If Latinos, California’s largest minority group, are going to fill the in-demand jobs of the future, the skills they learn in college will be essential. Community colleges can help Latino students succeed and those who need financial aid can find help by visiting www.icanaffordcollege.com.
Mike Quevedo Jr. is the Business Manager for the Southern California District Council of Laborers