November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Librarians Can—and Should—Help Students Navigate the High Cost of College | College Ready

150414_CollegemoneyBIGIn my junior year of college—for reasons I sometimes question today—I transferred from a large public university in California to a pricey private one in New York. My tuition bill more than quadrupled, and while my parents anted up, I had to pick up the rest: housing, food, and books.

Multiple shifts waitressing enabled me to cover my dorm, materials, and meals—microwaved noodles, mostly.

In five short years, my daughter will start college. While I appreciate the life skills those years gave me, I want a less stressful experience for her. Yet the expected price for her degree? For the 2014-15 school year, students paid more than $42,000 in tuition, room, and board at a private institution and nearly $19,000 a year for an in-state public school, according to the College Board.

Sandra Hernandez understands this reality well. At the Fair Haven branch of the New Haven (CT) Free Public Library where she is branch manager, Hernandez encounters many high school students who are the first in their family to apply to college. For them, getting accepted is only half the battle.

“Once I started working here, I had a better understanding of what the kids would need,” says Hernandez. “I want them to focus on school and applying to college. But at the same time, there are situations where they need to consider ways to bring money into the home. For me it’s about trying to find a balance.”

To start, Hernandez directs students to online sites for scholarships, and offers to help them with their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms, which are required for anyone applying for financial aid. She also hires students as volunteers so they can earn community service hours needed for a local scholarship, the New Haven Promise. Some students also work at the library during the summer and after they enter college to bring in additional funds. Parents can also seek help from Hernandez and the staff—who are always ready to offer their services.

“A lot of the parents may not have gone to college, but they know they want their kids to go,” she says. “So they’ll ask how they can get money [for their children.]”

SLJ1504-CollegeReady-PQAt Bound Brook (NJ) High School, about 80 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. So Katie Llera, Bound Brook’s school librarian, talks with students early—when they’re still sophomores—to get them thinking not just about the SAT, the ACT, and possible careers—but about their financial needs. She’ll even discuss jobs they might consider to help stretch their resources while in college. Llera also counsels them about scholarships that require an application fee and otherwise seem dubious.

“We really harp on that,” says Llera. “There’s so much information about scholarships, it’s overwhelming. But we focus on applying for something that’s legitimate and that mentions the criteria applicants need.”

This is vital information for the majority of families. While students commonly turn to college counselors for help as they near the end of their high school careers, the involvement of a librarian is becoming more critical to help students wade through online resources and provide other needed services.

During my sophomore year of college, I landed a coveted spot at one of the undergraduate libraries on campus. I loved the dusty smell of the stacks—not to mention the decent hourly wage. When my daughter starts college, she’ll work as well. Perhaps on campus, perhaps not—but she will help support her needs and literally buy into her own education. Her father and I are going to cover as much of the cost as we can (“Hello, student loans.”) But, like most students, she’ll need a job to help pay for her degree. And like most parents should, I’ll encourage her to seek help from the library—both at high school and college—for direction and maybe a paycheck as well.

“I haven’t heard of many other librarians getting involved [in college guidance],” says Llera.

Perhaps it’s time to step up.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

Share

Comments

  1. Wendy Whipple says:

    As the teacher librarian in a high school and a student who benefited from taking the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams many years ago, my co-worker and I always guide our seniors to http://www.collegeboard.org/clep where students can successfully gain college credits for what they already know. Our CLEP link on the library website includes test information, the testing center of the local county college where they can take the tests, links to prep materials in our collection, and also practice sites on the public library website. Students just need to check with their admitting college to make sure CLEP credits are accepted, and they may realize some of the best savings/financial aid they will ever receive!