By JEFF RAUCH
A few hundred students get really excited at the tail-end of every semester here at Cumberland County College.
They get excited because their education here is made possible through qualifying for free financial aid. The end of a semester also marks the end of the current round of financial aid grants, which for some students means one thing: free stipend checks, ka-ching!
Within the last month of every passing semester here at CCC, a date, time and location is predetermined. This year it’s the gymnasium on November 25th at 2pm. Anyone walking around this area at this time is sure to find a few exceedingly long lines of students, divided up by last name. Those students are lined up in anticipation of the moment when stipend checks will be handed out the first time. They collect the checks sometimes with intentions and plans well thought out long ago.
Take for example, freshman Phillip Spizzica, age 19, who estimates he will receive about $1300 and plans on putting the money towards a car. Phil said he doesn’t really have many expenses outside of food and entertainment. Phil, like most other recipients of stipend checks, has a pretty good idea of how much he will receive long before the checks are ever handed out.
Janay Hand, age 19, a freshman majoring in music education, said she will receive approximately two grand. She plans to spend about $200 on Christmas presents because she doesn’t really get that much from her job, working just two days a week in a pizza shop. She is going to put the rest aside for the next college she gets into, for room and board money. “I pay for my own gas, I pay my own car insurance, and also my own food,” she added, “I barely eat at home.” Janay is part of a large family and has had to learn a lot of discipline from a young age. As a result, she is rather economic in how she manages her finances.
However, this is not always the case. Another student, who asked to remain anonymous, said that he didn’t know how much he was getting back, but that he will definitely buy a new X-box. He also stated that if there’s enough money he’ll buy a car, not because he needs it, but just because it’d be nice to have. This young man comes from a family where his parents have enough money and are willing to cover all his expenses from week to week.
But this kind of situation is not a reality for everyone. Megan Parvin, 23, a nursing major, is receiving a check for $500. She plans on using the money to buy new tires for her car because she really needs them and will also make one car insurance payment. Megan is a single parent who works full time in addition to attending classes. She knows well the reality of having to conserve money and spend it carefully.
Justina Moore, 20, a criminal justice major, said she got back a check for $1458. She is a married mother of two who plans on using the money to pay bills and go Christmas shopping.
There are many students who just can’t wait to get their hands on those checks and run off in a hurry to the nearest local bank before the ink has dried, with grandiose plans on how they will spend the money. Plans that, according to Kimberly Henry-Mitchell, Senior Director of Financial Aid, may not add up to money well spent. “People spend the money on what they feel is important. Technically they’re supposed to spend it for educational purposes. Everyone has expenses and one way or the other, it’s going to come off of the back end.”
This is a point that Mark Sockwell, Director of Accounting Services, is certainly in agreement with. “It’s supposed to be there to help students with their educational expenses. I would like to see them save it; they never know when they may not qualify for financial aid in the future.”
The money received through stipend checks is intended for student necessities: food, clothing, shelter or transportation costs like gas or bus fare. Students who are transferring to four year colleges are encouraged to save the money, as they may need it for expenses like dorm fees, laundry, or meal tickets.
A stipend check which feels like an instant win lottery ticket while attending CCC may not go such a long way when once a student has transferred to a four year school in an area like New York or Philadelphia where the cost of living is much higher. Add to that the current state of economic conditions and the situation created is one where financial responsibility may be a challenge, but the success of achieving it could go a very long way.
People certainly spend their money in a variety of ways. The majority of students interviewed for this article, though, all gave the same answer: They are using the money to pay bills because they are not working and have many expenses to deal with. This is certainly a result of the recent downslide of the economy.
The process of applying for financial aid is a required first step for all students or potential students who wish to receive grants or tuition money. Potential candidates must either make an appointment with the Financial Aid Office or apply online at http://www.fasfa.gov.ed, which is the official website of Federal Student Aid. Once qualifications have been met, applicants receive notice of determination and the grant money is electronically transferred to CCC’s Bursar office where it is applied to tuition, fees, books and insurance policies.