Breaking down barriers to higher education
by By Agnes Hapka
POINT PLEASANT — Roxanne Smith would like to help regional people of all ages and social backgrounds realize that they need not be intimidated by the college application process.
Smith is a counselor with the Heart of Appalachia Educational Opportunity Center, working through a US Department of Education grant-funded program which offers its services free of charge to the public. All services are also completely confidential, said Smith.
The 10-year-old program is called TRiO and serves Mason, Lincoln and Wayne Counties, helping people who wish to pursue higher education with everything from financial aid (FAFSA) to scheduling and even figuring out the logistics and practicalities of fitting college into their busy lives.
“We try to help streamline the process for people,” Smith said. “We can help take them from the thought of “perhaps I’d like to go to school,” all the way through to being ready to graduate.”
Although Smith is based at Marshall’s Mid-Ohio Valley Center in Point Pleasant, the help she offers is not restricted to admission to Marshall University.
“We can help student go to any school. That’s one of the conditions of the federal grant,” Smith said. “I always tell people to comparison-shop when they look for schools and degrees. What are they interested in? Do they want to drive or stay close to home? Do they want a one-year certificate or a four-year bachelor’s degree?”
Smith said that many of the potential students who participate in the program are adults who have other obligations, and she takes that into account.
“They’re working around jobs, children, and other commitments,” Smith noted, who attended Marshall in her thirties as a mother and divorcee. “I’m very aware of the non-traditional aspect.”
Also under the TRiO umbrella, for those still in grades six through 12, is the Heart of Appalachia of Talent Search, which offers future college students information about admission requirements, scholarships and financial aid programs.
Smith addressed a current concern among those thinking of higher education: the increase in interest rates for federal loans.
“Nick Bedway, our director, talked about the loan rates in our recent newsletter,” Smith said. “He said that some people were under the impression that their loan payments would double.
In the newsletter, Bedway pointed out that the new rate means the equivalent of a $6 to $10 actual payment increase per month in a 10-year standard repayment plan. He added that the increase does not apply to existing loans.
“Also, I think people don’t always realize that there’s a federal pell grant available to them, that they don’t have to pay back, as well as a West Virginia Higher Education Grant, which is up to $2,500 a year. Of course, these are income based. Filling out the FAFSA paperwork means you’re automatically applying for the grants.”
Smith said she is always glad to help people fill out the FAFSA.
“Sometimes it’s intimidating,” she said, “And a lot of people don’t realize that their financial information can be re-evaluated to see if they qualify for more aid because of recent unemployment or divorce, or other changes in financial circumstances.”
For those in other towns, such as Mason or New Haven, Smith visits the town libraries each month so that people don’t have to drive all the way to Point Pleasant.
“The first Thursday of the month I’m in New Haven; the second Thursday I’m in Mason, and the third I’m in Hannan,” Smith noted, “So if you live in the other end of the county you don’t have to use your gas just to come down here.”
Smith said people are also welcome to just stop by her office in Point Pleasant, and she encourages current students to come as well.
“We can help them go through their FAFSA for the following year,” Smith said.
Anyone who would like more information may call Roxanne Smith at (304)674-7204 or send an email to her at email@example.com.
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