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Monday, November 27, 2006

Two schools at once

Note:

A print version of this story can be read online at www.laredosnews.com in the November issue of LareDOS, or be found around Laredo, Texas.

By MIKE McILVAIN

Tempting, beckoning, curiosity-sparking electives look like presents under the Christmas tree to young college students with a knack for learning.
College and university professors and administrators have seen those many course grabbing students become “professional students” – some never earning a degree after taking more than enough hours for a bachelor’s and master’s in some cases. Texas A&M-International and Laredo Community College have put together a joint, simultaneous enrollment program designed to get incoming freshmen to stay the course to their degrees in four years without straying into professional student status.
Students enrolled in the program have access to facilities at both schools, as well as the public library. The two schools also have access to the records of jointly enrolled students, allowing for a closer course taking scrutiny and more guidance.
“We never say OK, you’re done, see you later,” LCC counselor Lisa Gonzalez said.
This isn’t the occasional guidance contact and degree planning of decades past where word of mouth held a higher importance. Finishing on time is important in the case of many local students who depend on time-related grants, too.
Students in a joint enrollment program like the one LCC and TAMIU have will likely hear more from counselors and financial aid workers than their parents did 30 and 40 years ago. LCC has similar agreements with other universities, but the local program is in its first year.
Taking those extra eye-catching electives costs parents, or the student money and more is potentially lost in the case of the B on Time Loan. The student’s debt is forgiven if they finish within four years with no less than a 3.0 grade point average and don’t take more than six hours over their degree plan.
B on Time Loan students receives some $2,300 per semester. Tuition and fees for 15 hours at TAMIU costs $2,339, but only $858 at LCC.
Any student in any financial bracket can qualify for the B on time loan, but local administrators know they are dealing with many who the first in their family to attend college, so little, if anything, can be taken for granted.
“Some hours don’t transfer into degrees, but with this intervention a student can get in and get out in four years,” Minita Ramirez, TAMIU’s associate vice president for student success, said. “We have a large first generation student population.”
Ramirez says many first generation college students need a little more handholding, noting that many lack basic knowledge of higher education finance, academic confidence, and how to deal with the processes of enrollment and advancement.
“We work with the schools. We help with their requirements,” Ramirez said. “Some don’t understand how things are at the university and want to go to LCC.”
LCC Dean of Enrollment Management Rick Moreno says they try help fill out forms, find financial aid and payment options, which students and their parents can live with.
LCC and TAMIU each award hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in grants, loans and scholarships, but connecting the student to that money requires some professional help and this is where the joint enrollment program kicks in.
That connection will make, or break, college for many students.
“The key is more time earlier and that much more of a chance we can work with them,” Gonzalez said.
Many first-year college students find themselves with their first checking account and are learning the hard way how to use money.
“Finances are huge. We try to support them and we know life skills, reading are important, too,” Moreno said. “We sell education and that improves the quality of life.
“The state continues to raise budget problems and it’s hard dealing with budget problems, but we have to work with them.”

1 Comments:

At 6:44 PM, Blogger Michael said...

I especially like to hear the colleges are taking a more active approach in helping the students reach their educational goals. College can be a difficult growth experience. The requirements for the on time B financial arrangement sound very challanging.

 

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