Mark Warner, director of student financial aid and assistant provost for enrollment services, is in his 34th year at Iowa and says he enjoys his job today more than ever: “I absolutely love interacting with parents and students. I feel that, in some small way, I’m making possible someone’s livelihood.” Warner recently spoke with Parent Times to address timely financial issues for parents.
.What are some of the most common misconceptions regarding student financial aid?
One is the notion that nobody goes to college without borrowing money. Actually, 42 percent of our undergraduate students graduated debt-free in 2007, and of those with debt, the average total debt was just over $20,000, with the average need-based portion being around $11,000.
Another one is “If I make more than $50,000, or $100,000, my student shouldn’t apply for aid.” I advise all parents and students, regardless of family income, to annually complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. A lot of factors determine financial need, such as the size of the family, the number of college students in the family, and assets. Also, there are low-cost federal loans available to families who may not demonstrate financial need according to the federal formula.
Also, not qualifying for a scholarship their first year does not preclude students from qualifying later. That’s why it’s so important to file the FAFSA annually.
What is the budget climate like this year, in terms of aid?
It’s looking pretty good compared with the past few years. In 2006–07, the University awarded more than $23 million in University under-graduate scholarships and grants. In fiscal year 2008, we have budgeted $26.2 million to support these same—and new—University scholarship and grant programs.
Also, the federal government has increased Federal Pell Grants for the 2007–08 academic year. The Iowa Legislature has increased funding for the Iowa Work-Study Program, while also creating a new state program called the All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship Program. On the University level, we’re continuing to work with the UI Foundation to secure private funds and seeing increases in support for scholarships and grants.
How can parents keep abreast of financial aid issues?
Stay tuned to our web site at www.uiowa.edu/financial-aid. We solicit scholarship information from various UI departments and also have links to helpful web sites such as FastWeb, which offers a free scholarship search.
Fall semester is under way. What should parents be thinking about or planning for regarding financial aid for their student?
Come late November or early December, the Office of Student Financial Aid will be contacting their son or daughter—via postcard and e-mail—to remind them that it’s time to apply for aid for next year. The 2008–09 process starts on Jan. 1, 2008, and we’ll begin awarding aid in the first or second week of March. There’s more demand than supply, and aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. So, the earlier students apply, the better position they will be in to qualify for the maximum amount of scholarships and grants available.
There has been controversy lately surrounding schools that have preferred lenders for student loans. Where does The University of Iowa stand on this issue?
The University has never had a list of preferred lenders for students and parents to borrow through. Our philosophy is to ensure that the process for borrowing is as simple and as streamlined as possible, and we do this by participating in the Federal Direct Loan Program. We will notify students of their eligibility for any and all federal loans, but we don’t package private loans. Students and/or parents must initiate the private loan process on their own.
Any other advice or tips you’d like to share with parents?
I can’t overemphasize how important it is to stay in contact with students—to communicate with them about their academic progress and to make sure the student continues to be eligible for financial aid programs. If a student seems to be heading toward a five-year program, for example, that’s an additional cost to consider as well as forgone income. Most scholarships assume students will be enrolled full-time over eight semesters, so a fifth year may mean loss of some scholarship money that had been received the first four years.
Also, try to be a supportive partner as students go through this costly but invaluable experience. I can’t think of a more important investment a family can make than a college education.