Op-Eds

Congressman Henry Cuellar: College is for everyone - Utilize Financial Aid Opportunities for Higher Education Aspirations

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Washington, May 25, 2011 | comments

Congratulations

As the school year comes to a close, I’d like to congratulate the graduating Class of 2011 for their perseverance and determination through their academic tenure.

This is a turning point in your life – a time to make a decision. You may plan to enter in the workforce or join the military to fight for our country. For others, you may find yourself in technical school pursing a specialized study, a community college, or a four year university this coming fall. Regardless of the path you choose, remain dedicated and focused.

Upon completing my high school degree, I attended Laredo Community College and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. I continued furthering my education by completing a master’s degree at Texas A&M International University and earned a law degree and a Ph.D. in Government from the University of Texas at Austin. I attribute my educational accomplishments to federal government assistance provided by financial aid. Here is vital information to consider in reducing education costs.

Getting started

To receive financial aid, you’ll need to fill out a “Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)” form. Make sure you have your Social Security Number, driver’s license, income tax returns, bank statements, and investment records available since you will need that information to apply.

It is important to recognize the difference between a loan and grant. Loans are a form of financial aid that must be repaid with interest, while grants are federally funded assistance that you do not have to repay.

Grants

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act, now law, provides grant opportunities for students. The TEACH grant provides tuition assistance to students who commit to teach in public schools in high-poverty communities and high-need subject areas. Undergraduate may receive $4,000 a year and a maximum of $16,000 over four years.

Pell grants are awarded on a need basis for undergraduate students. For the 2010-2011 school year, the amount will be $5,550 – $200 above last year’s award. At this level, the Pell Grant will be able to cover a year of tuition at most public universities and community colleges in the state.

Loans

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act ensured the common Stafford Loans, offered on a need basis, now have a fixed interest rate of 4.5 percent. These federal loan interest rates provide greater savings over more expensive private loans to make it easier for students to attend college. I encourage you to explore all options before securing a loan - consider a federal loan before a private loan.  

Other options

Students can receive aid from the federal government if they work while completing their studies. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act invested $200 million so that an additional 133,000 students would be paid to work in a field related to their major or in community service.

For those interested in entering a career in public service, complete loan forgiveness will be offered to workers after ten consecutive years and loan payments. Public service careers include: teachers, public defenders, prosecutors, firefighters, nurses, non-profit workers, among others.

Your financial situation should not stop you short from receiving a college degree. There are viable options to ease higher education costs and assist you in earning your degree. For more information, please visit my website at cuellar.house.gov or feel free to contact any of my offices throughout the 28th District of Texas or in Washington, D.C.

I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

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