Funding community college
August 13, 2018 10:51 AM   Subscribe

Friend wants to go to college, but has very little money. How to find scholarships/grants/financial support for community college in Miami, FL?

My friend graduated high school a few years ago, and now wants to go to college. His ultimate goal is to study/work in neuroscience. The problem is - he doesn't have the financial means to go to college. He's been working low-wage jobs and trying to save up, but it's very slow-going and has been a pretty depressing grind.

He's turning 22 this year, is located in Miami, and is hoping to go to community college there. He's been looking at a B.S.N. (bachelor of science in nursing) from Miami Dade College. Due to various more complicated family reasons, he doesn't qualify for financial aid from MDC (but he can't get financial support from his parents). He also doesn't have any credit personally, so he doubts he can get a loan. His high school GPA wasn't that great (higher than 2.5, lower than 3.0) - but are there any scholarships or grants available (locally or nationally) that he might be able to apply for?

He is pretty talented, and has done some solid projects with graphic design/coding in his spare time (unpaid, voluntary positions). He's billingual (English and Spanish), is able to pick up new skills (software, code) very quickly, and has impressive attention to detail combined with very good communication skills.

Is there any way of finding the $ to go to community college beyond working minimum wage jobs? Scholarships, grants, better-paying job opportunities...? (Or anything else we may be missing...?)
Fall term begins in 2 weeks, and it's about $1.5k for the term's fees. The next term would be in spring 2019 (and would cost about the same per term).

Any advice, help or guidance would be really appreciated. I'm not very familiar with the community college system or financial aid/scholarships available to Miami/US residents, so I'm asking here. Thank you in advance.
posted by aielen to Education (18 answers total)
The Bright Futures scholarship was the main one back when I was graduating high school, although if he is 22, he may no longer be eligible depending on when he received his diploma (and his GPA): Bright Futures Handbook.

If he by any chance has been working at Publix for 6 months or so, they offer scholarships for employees.

Otherwise, the people who will be most knowledgeable about his scholarship eligiblity will be the admissions and financial aid offices at the college in question.

I would also look here: Miami Dade College Scholarships. It sounds like he may be eligible for the "Florida Pathways to Success" Scholarship.
posted by dis_integration at 11:21 AM on August 13, 2018

I got a small scholarship from the local Lion's club when I started at community college.
posted by little king trashmouth at 12:09 PM on August 13, 2018

Sorry if this is obvious, but has your friend tried just calling the financial aid office and asking to set up an appointment with someone there? They should have counselors who can address specific concerns.

I ended up with a tuition scholarship that I only found out about because a financial aid counselor knew about it and was looking for someone who was eligible.
posted by FencingGal at 12:18 PM on August 13, 2018 [13 favorites]

Has he spoken to admissions/financial aid people at MDC? I know you said he doesn't qualify for financial aid from them but is that based on filling out a form or a conversation with a real person? Also, FWIW, the year he turns 24 he will no longer be considered a dependent student and his financial aid will be considered separately from his parents' income. If he turns 23 this year, he'll be non-dependent next school year. But that doesn't necessarily mean he'll get significantly more assistance, unfortunately.

Also I wouldn't assume that he can't get student loans, especially if he just has "no credit" rather than "bad credit" - student loans are lots of people's first credit product. That's not to say that he *should* take out loans, just that it is most likely a possibility and he should consider it along with his other options. The standard amount that a first-year undergraduate dependent student can borrow is $5500. Again, not saying "go get loans!" just saying that it is likely to be a possibility.

Your friend sounds like someone who probably could get a non-minimum-wage job, but it might require some on-the-ground guidance. Bartending or waiting tables are classic suggestions for non-credential-requiring jobs that you can make good money at. Alternately if he could pick up just a few graphic design or coding jobs at a couple of hundred dollars apiece, that could really jumpstart his college savings.

If he *is* going to do minimum-wage work, he should consider doing something in a health-adjacent field if at all possible, maybe something like a Patient Observer/Sitter position. These aren't particularly good jobs (generally low-paying and low-respect), but a lot of health sciences programs and certifications will have some kind of patient-contact-hour requirement and it doesn't hurt to start getting in on that early. And he'll be meeting and interacting with people in his chosen field, which could be useful for him later.
posted by mskyle at 12:19 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much for your responses so far! Really helpful, and a lot of useful points to think on.

Has he spoken to admissions/financial aid people at MDC? I know you said he doesn't qualify for financial aid from them but is that based on filling out a form or a conversation with a real person?

That was from applying for financial aid about a year ago (and his family/personal financial situation hasn't changed since then) - he applied and was told he didn't qualify.

Also, FWIW, the year he turns 24 he will no longer be considered a dependent student and his financial aid will be considered separately from his parents' income. If he turns 23 this year, he'll be non-dependent next school year.

Unfortunately he turns 22 this year, so it sounds like he'd have to wait 2 more years to be considered separately from his parents' income.

I would also look here: Miami Dade College Scholarships. It sounds like he may be eligible for the "Florida Pathways to Success" Scholarship.

He was looking into that particular scholarship, but a health sciences field of study is considered ineligible for that scholarship. :( For some reason a health sciences program (which the BSN would fall under) is not considered as STEM for that scholarship.
posted by aielen at 12:52 PM on August 13, 2018

Depending on the specific reasons/ways his family situation is "complicated," he may qualify as an independent student for federal loans. The process can be pretty rough to wade through, and there's a lot of hair-splitting when it comes to language and family relationships, but he might check out the FAFSA requirements himself, just to make sure that the people in the financial aid office were correct.
posted by halation at 1:09 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Your friend needs to make an appointment with the college financial aid office for this new academic year. The counselor will have a better idea which non-need-based programs may be open to him currently. Filing the FAFSA is the usually the first step, even if he believes he still won't be eligible for need-based gov't aid; renewing the FAFSA application is pretty easy. He should also touch base with the counseling office of his old high school.

(If he needs to take out loans for the first semester, he shouldn't believe he's stuck taking on debt for his entire college education. For example, once he's a student, he can submit an application for the school's full-ride nursing scholarship. Some other ideas. Unfortunately, two weeks isn't really enough time for most scholarship or grant programs to process paperwork. If a local credit union has a credit card or personal loan with a reasonable interest rate, he might use that for the first-semester costs. If necessary, the counselor can help him create a plan to get funding approved in time for spring semester.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:09 PM on August 13, 2018

When I hear the term "Community College", I think of a 2-year school that provides associates degrees and often can serve as the freshman & sophomore years for a state 4 year school. Also, I expect that the costs for a 2-year school are a lot less than for a 4 year school. Also, sometimes they have "certificate" programs where you can go for 6-9-12 months and get a certification in something that pays more than minimum wage.

Looking at the Miami Dade website & also your friend's aspirations, it looks to me like he is interested in a 4 year state school. Is it possible for him to go to a 2 year school either for an AS or AA degree or perhaps a certificate program that would allow him to make enough income to pay for the 4 year school?
posted by elmay at 1:12 PM on August 13, 2018

"In 2003, the College was granted the right to award baccalaureate degrees in education to meet future education needs, and currently offers three bachelor's degrees. As a result, the College changed its name again from Miami-Dade Community College to Miami Dade College to reflect four-year degree possibilities. However, it is overwhelmingly a two-year college focused on awarding associate degrees."
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:42 PM on August 13, 2018

UPS offers tuition assistance for part-time employees and eligibility starts the day you're hired ($5,250 in assistance per calendar year with a lifetime maximum of $25,000)

Here's a list of the Florida UPS locations eligible for this program. I don't know if any are close enough to where he is.
posted by belladonna at 1:53 PM on August 13, 2018

I'm a state uni professor. The majority of my students are in a similar situation as your friend with regards to paying for college. Most financial aid, aside from loans, is going to require he enroll in a certain number of units/credits, and maintain a minimum GPA each semester, usually a C, or higher. Trying to take a full load of courses while working even part-time is very, very challenging. It is certainly doable, loads of students manage, but makes for a lot of stress in their lives. Throw in housing/family/personal issues, and the stress levels increase exponentially, and academic performance can (but not always) suffer. If he will have to rely primarily on loans, he runs the risk of increasing his loan debt every semester if he has to retake classes to make up for low grades. It becomes a really vicious cycle that many of today's students face.

My suggestion is that he enroll in one course this semester. He should pay for this one course out of pocket. This way he can test the waters of college, and get an idea of how this is going to work with financial and time budgets. Rule of thumb is each course unit requires two (2) hours of work and study outside of class. If things go well this semester, next semester he could enroll in two courses, again paying out of pocket. If he can't manage to pay for two courses on his own, stick with one. It will be slow going towards degree completion, but he will get an idea if he really wants to do college, and, IMHO it is better to avoid jumping in to tons of student debt that hangs around whether or not a student finishes a degree.

If he is really determined to jump in full time, he should look at the work study programs, and student jobs that are offered on campus, in addition to grants, scholarships, and loans.
posted by socrateaser at 2:59 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would think long term and strategic with this; it's better to wait two years and be eligible for a full ride than to go into debt. Additionally, he might consider getting a job at the college or another academic institution. Most have tuition assistance for employees.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:17 PM on August 13, 2018

The Pathways to Success scholarship is for students enrolled in an associates of Arts with the intent of transferring to a 4 year STEM degree. Are you saying that they won't award it if he says he will transfer to the BSN? If so, a) are there any penalties if he says he intends to transfer to a degree that does qualify, and ends up not doing so? and b) why is he interested in the Nursing degree specifically, if he wants to go on to neuroscience? There must be other degrees that would count as STEM and are probably more directly related to neuroscience.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:48 PM on August 13, 2018

Often the FAFSA is used when awarding scholarships and other school-based aid (i.e., not just federal and state aid). He should fill one out regardless.

The start date to begin the process for the 2019-2020 academic year is Oct. 1. JUST STARTING the application, even if you don't complete it for a while, is enough to hold your place in line*, so get him to fill it out! And the criteria for financial aid changes, so just because he was ineligible last year doesn't preclude him from ever getting aid.

*Aid is given on a first-come, first-serve basis until the money runs out, usually in late January-early February.

Spent two hours in a financial aid for college advisers meeting this morning...
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:52 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

He could perhaps look for jobs in a related field that might offer tuition reimbursement toward his degree of choice.
posted by padraigin at 7:03 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

In a lot of places, one can become a licensed nursing assistant fairly quickly (several weeks) at a relatively low cost. He can then try to get a job at a place where he can get tuition assistance. He could also become an EMT, but that may take more time and a bit more money. EMTs tend to pay more as nursing assistants get just above minimum wage. As he is a male, he would likely be at an advantage as he's likely better qualified to lift patients and things like that. Also, most non-traditional students in nursing I've seen often go for the Registered nurse degree, which is an associate's degree and takes a bit less time and less money. Once he gets a job, often the hospital will help pay to get his bachelor's.
posted by greatalleycat at 11:29 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

It sounds like he is still young enough to qualify for Job Corps, which might not fund his desired degree, but will definitely cover costs on job training for higher paying jobs, which might also be more likely to offer tuition assistance/reimbursement.

One of the Americorps options might also be worth looking into. Serving for one or two years would mean work experience, a paycheck, health insurance, and an educational stipend when you're done—also, two years would get him to the age 24 threshold for FAFSA independence, if that is an obstacle.

Also, not sure what his feelings about the armed forces are, but joining the Reserves (any branch really) has some pretty sweet health and education benefits for part-time work, which might help supplement any existing jobs.

Definitely should talk with financial aid as well. Not only will they be able to help out with the paperwork and will know more about scholarship, work study, and loan options, but they may also know of some limited grant-funded opportunities the college might have that he could apply for.

I agree with socrateaser—it might be a good idea to start off slow with just one or two core classes this semester since it's so close to the start of fall classes (and payment due date). Setting up a payment plan online or with the student accounts office at the school will help spread the cost out a bit throughout the semester so he doesn't have to come up with as huge a chunk of change.

Also: a lot of community colleges do have endowed scholarships, but they're usually only eligible to a student who has already completed a certain number of credits. This might be something to investigate—maybe he could take it slow the first semester or two until he gets enough credits banked to start applying for those internal scholarships. I know at the CC I work at, there are a LOT of scholarships for nursing students.
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:49 AM on August 14, 2018

Addressing the community college system side: the BSN offered is a bridge program, which means he won't be able to apply until he's become an RN. THE RN program is an associate's, which requires pre-requisites. This path is probably about five or six years. (Took me five, but I have an existing bachelor's degree.) The RN program looks to be very competitive and he will need to distinguish himself.

It will not easily lead to a neuroscience track; there will be no direct path as it is focused on direct patient care. It will be expensive and take a lot of time. Scholarships will probably not be offered until he's done with the prerequisites, and even then might not cover enough.

A certificate program might be more affordable and offer less obstacles overall. If he still wants to pursue the BSN, it will be a good way to help distinguish himself in the application process.
posted by RainyJay at 3:23 PM on August 15, 2018

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