During the 2014–15 academic year, Seattle Pacific University will award approximately $90 million in scholarships and financial aid to 95 percent of its students. The average annual financial assistance per student? Nearly $30,000. Because U.S. News consistently rates SPU as one of the top “Best Value” institutions in the West, Response asked Jordan Grant, director of SPU’s Student Financial Services, how the University works with families to help make an SPU education affordable.
Many families see a gap between what they feel they can pay and what the Office of Federal Student Aid says they can afford. How do you address that?
SPU does the best we can, given our resources, to balance a student’s overall financial aid. We consider academics and other talents a student brings to campus, which may qualify for merit awards, and the FAFSA for need-based aid such as grants, loans, and work study. But some students’ financial need may be greater than their financial aid, and families and students then use external resources such as outside scholarships, parent loans, and work study.
Students can also allocate their own resources. If living on campus, a student can choose a double or triple room. Books and supplies may not be so much in a student’s control, but they do have options — used or new-books, or buying online. Students can also decide not to bring a car to campus, and instead check out a bus pass through Student Life.
They can also watch out for spending money frivolously on incidentals. We try to provide some good tools for students about that, including an online program called MoneyWise, which covers different topics for freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.
How do you help prevent students from graduating with excessive student-loan debt?
We try to put a ceiling on loans offered to a student each year. A student can obviously borrow less than that, but as a practice we don’t increase loans as a student moves along unless they find their own loan funding. The number one thing is to make sure you’re borrowing for what you need, not for what you want.
Other general advice is that students should not borrow more than what their expected starting annual salary will be.
What about campus jobs and work study for students?
As part of the new student advising, students and the transfers hear a presentation from a student financial services counselor or student employment coordinator during which work study is highlighted. Additionally, someone — me or the senior associate director for SFS counseling — speaks to the parents about work study.
Students find their own jobs and go through the process to get hired. SPU does not place students, but I think it’s important to say one thing about how we do work study on our campus: Some schools, to work on campus, you must qualify for work study. We don’t say that here. We say, "To work on campus, you must be a student, and you must be hired."
Student Financial Services and Student Payroll will figure out which students qualifies for work study and which do not. So that helps employers find the student that best fits, and the student does not have to worry about which employer is going to take my work study and which isn't.
Can students work off campus and receive work-study funds?
That’s “state work study,” and off-campus employers can participate in the state work study program in which part of the payment that they give to students is subsidized by the state. In fact, the state likes to say one in five positions in state work study turns into a full-time job.
We’re bringing on quite a lot of employers on state work study. It’s a really exciting time. We have not-for-profit service organizations, science and research companies, and governmental offices such as the city of Seattle as part of the program. SPU students have lot of work experiences available in our urban setting.
You were a first-generation college student weren’t you?
Yes, I went to a very small high school on the Oregon coast, and my knowledge of the college search process was zero. But I knew I wanted to go. I applied to the University of Oregon, and was admitted based upon my daily work scores through my high school and into a program for minority students; my mother is a first generation Mexican-American; my grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1940s.
I remember the moment I got my admissions letter. It was great. But I more remember the moment I opened up my financial aid award. I looked at it and did the math really quick in my head, and I remember thinking, “I can do it. It’s possible. I have the money to go.” It was a big deal.
Until then, my future was working in the mill, which I knew was not a permanent solution to my financial or physical well-being. I knew going to college was my way to a different life, and so I knew from that letter that doors could open from that financial aid. I think it impacted what I do today, and I bring a different perspective than other aid administrators may bring.
A college education and, in particular, access to a college education through finances, is a great social equalizer. It gives people where I came from and others who have even greater challenges, the opportunities to be fully what God intended us to be.