"Yes, the nation is in an economic crisis," agrees Bola Soyemi, Director of Student Financial Services for the Art Institute of California - Inland Empire. "But funds for college are still available. It's just that parents and students don't realize it."
Students considering an education at an Art Institute school most likely have a definite career goal, as the education they provide focuses on training people to work in creative fields. But, as with almost all careers, these students need to prepare for their goals with a college education.
"I hope to have a job doing what I love, so when I awaken each morning my job is something more of an adventure, rather than something to just pay the bills," said Alurra Hughes, a senior at Redlands High School who hopes to attend The Art Institute of California -- Inland Empire after graduation.
Alurra seized a great opportunity earlier this year, when she entered and won The Art Institute of California --Inland Empire's annual poster contest. She has already won a $3,000 scholarship, and has an opportunity to increase that amount to a full scholarship if she wins a competition of first-place winners from participating schools of The Art Institutes.
But even if she doesn't win the full scholarship, the financial aid staff of The Art Institute of California-Inland Empire will help Alurra find the resources she needs to pursue a degree at their school. They did the same two years ago for Alyssa Mees, who is now one of the school's first graduates and works full-time in her dream job as a graphic designer.
The Art Institute of California -- Inland Empire has helped most of the more than 750 current students put together financial aid packages so that they too can pursue their education and career goals.
In some cases, Soyemi states, parents aren't clear on the value and opportunities a higher education provides. This leads to a lack of parental support and commitment towards sending a child to college.
"I believe that more families should change their mindset towards education and embrace the opportunities that come with having a college degree," Soyemi said. "The opportunities do come with cost, of course, but funds for college are still available."
On the Internet, Google's search engine spells it out. There are five million hits under "scholarship search," two and a half million sites for "student financial aid" and in our state alone there are 700,000 sites under "California student financial aid."
The United States Department of Education provides more than $83 billion in loans and non-repayable grants for higher education. That makes up fully 60 percent of the nation's student aid funding. More than nine million students are dependent on this aid for their college education. And, experts point out, millions of available dollars go unused every single year.
Soyemi, who heads a staff of 10, says, "Approximately 90 percent of the students at our school were on some financial aid program last year, ranging from hundreds of dollars in support to many thousands." These might take the form of federal, state or institution grants, depending on current budget allocations.
"My biggest task," Soyemi adds, "is encouraging students and their parents to not disqualify themselves by simply failing to apply for aid. Particularly the parents, who may not realize that funds are available."
"All the student or parents have to do to start the financial planning process is go to any college or university financial aid office and fill out the FAFSA form. That stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Then you simply ask what else is available."
Every year The Art Institute of California -- Inland Empire gives over $150,000 in scholarships from $3,000 to $15,000 each. For details, go to www.artinstitutes.edu/Admissions/FinancialAid.aspx
There might be scholarships from local businesses or service organizations, state supplied grants, funds from the college itself and numerous student loan programs in which interest rates are low and repayment doesn't begin until the education years are completed.