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More students using financial aid

The economic recession has students young and old seeking the benefits of higher education

Posted: February 21, 2009 12:09 a.m.
Updated: February 21, 2009 12:30 p.m.

Classmates Marcia Holtz, left, and Beverly Axen, right, from Valencia, go over their math homework during their Intro to Statistics class at College of the Canyon Wednesday evening.

Beverly Axen, 52, is a College of the Canyons student who depends on financial aid to earn her college education.

"I couldn't attend (school) if I didn't have it," she said. "Right now, my husband is unemployed again. I couldn't have gone. This pays for my tuition and my books, which is a pretty penny."

Axen, of Valencia, is in her second year at COC and hopes to graduate from the Computer Information Technology program in June.

"I home-schooled my children all the way from kindergarten through high school," she said. "To come back into the workforce, I really needed skills that I did not have when I left the workforce.

"Practically every job that you're going to apply for is going to require you to have some knowledge of computers."

Raising her two sons put Axen out of the workforce for 23 years.

"To get back into any job that pays anything, you either have to have continuous employment or a degree," Axen said. "Since I don't have continuous employment, I had to go for a degree."

Axen is familiar with the community college. Her husband attended the community college in the 1970s. Both her sons attended College of the Canyons after high school before transferring to four-year colleges to earn higher degrees.

Until she graduates, Axen continues to visit the career services department and attend career days to understand the job market.
"Boy, I sure hope I can find something that pays more than minimum wage," she said.

More students are attending COC to boost their skills in a crippled economy, and they are looking for financial aid.

"The cost of education is always going up and there's all kinds of costs associated with going to college," said Tom Bilbruck, COC's director of financial aid. "With the way the economy is right now, it makes it a lot tougher to make the decision: Do I go back to school or do I find something else?"

College figures show a 28 percent increase in the number of financial aid applications from 2008.

The money serves a crucial purpose.

"Some students may not be able to go to school if they don't get their grant money," Bilbruck said.

Financial aid counselors provide guidance on how students can apply for different types of financial aid, ranging from Cal Grants to federal student loans.

"It's just a huge source of funding, and students really need to be directed into what's available," Bilbruck said.

Student loans are getting more popular as grants and scholarships are becoming more scarce.

"More and more students are interested in the student-loan market. It's something that they're having to resort to," Bilbruck said.

The college offers Stafford Federal Students Loans.

"It's a resource that's there for students. It's one of the options they have to fund their education, especially if they don't qualify for grants," Bilbruck said.

Despite an increase in community college students, the money is still out there for students to find, said Brian Safdari, owner of Valencia-based College Planning Experts Inc.

The problem for many students and families is understanding the financial aid process and how to access grants, loans and scholarships, he said.

The types of students going to COC range from high school graduates to recently laid-off workers.

"I think that there's a lot of students, if they're getting turned away from CSU and UCs, they're coming here," he said.

At $20 a unit, attending COC is an affordable option.

Axen prefers scholarships and grants over loans because they don't need to be repaid.


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