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Lives In The Balance

More than 7,600 University of La Verne students could suffer a potentially devastating blow to their future if Congress goes through with a threat to cut billions from federal financial aid programs.

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  • March 31, 2011

Watch Kristin Lewis interact with her four energetic kids and it’s difficult to imagine a happier scene. The children are doing well in school and, thanks to assistance from federal loans and grants, Kristin is a graduate student at the University of La Verne, working to become a teacher.

But not long ago, there was little hope for Kristin. She is a survivor of domestic violence and, now separated from that horrifying situation, is the sole support for her children — two boys and two girls, ranging from 15 to 5 in age.

She’s moved on with her life and now that she and her children are safe, she pursues a career as a teacher and an educational grants writer.

Now a graduate student, Lewis is one of more than 7,600 La Verne students who receive Direct Loans from the federal government. The total of all loans this year to La Verne students exceeds $65 million, with additional disbursements still to be made before the end of the school year.

But Kristin and the other 7,600-plus La Verne students receiving aid are holding their collective breath as the United States House of Representatives contemplates a cut of up to $10.6 billion in federal student financial aid programs.

That would be a devastating blow to Lewis and others.

“Having a scholarship has been a great gift for me,” Lewis said. “As a resuming college student, having the extra money and opportunities to work in the Federal Work Study Program has made my goal of getting an undergraduate degree possible and it has given me actual job training experience in my field of interest.”

As an undergraduate, Lewis received both a Pell Grant and a Federal Perkins Loan. This year, 2,046 La Verne students received a Pell Grant, and there were 524 recipients of a Perkins Loan. The average Pell Grant at La Verne is $3,166 and the average Perkins Loan is $846.

Financial aid for college students has been a good investment. As David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, pointed out in a recent editorial in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “College graduates earn higher salaries and are more likely to keep their jobs in bad economic times. From 2008 to 2009, the unemployment rate for college graduates rose from 2.6 to 4.6 percent; the rate for high-school graduates rose from 5.7 to 9.7 percent. While 8 percent of high-school graduates 25 and older lived in households getting food stamps in 2008, only 1 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees did so.”

Steven Manila, a junior at La Verne, is a business administration major who relies on direct student loans from the federal government.

University of La Verne junior Steven Manila is a first-generation student who also receives financial aid through government loans. He is not only developing valuable self-reliance but he is making his entire family proud. He appreciates the opportunity he has to educate himself — one his parents and grandparents did not have when they were his age. A business administration major with the goal of being an administrator for an international company, Manila has also assumed a leadership role in student government and is a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

Manila is a model for students at La Verne and across the country who just want an opportunity — one that wouldn’t exist if not for the assistance he gets from federal student loans.

“Every day there are hard choices to make, especially lately,” University of La Verne President Steve Morgan said. “But a college education is an investment in the future. By investing in today’s students and keeping the doors to higher education open, we are fulfilling our responsibilities to future generations who will provide a greater return than we can imagine.”

One other La Verne student, Niki Lalla, is at the threshold of the kind of success story you hear about every day — people who start out with nothing, put themselves through college while holding a job to help support their family, and working hard in school and holding on tight to their dreams.

Niki Lalla is pursuing a bachelor of science degree in psychology with the goal of someday being a marriage/family counselor.

You hear about them when they’ve become successful, and Niki plans to reach that level of achievement as well. She works a part-time job while attending the University of La Verne, and hands over part of each paycheck to her father, who not long ago sold the family business, a restaurant, when things got tough financially. Her father works and is sole provider for the family.

Niki aspires to be a marriage/family counselor one day and she’s pursuing a bachelor of science degree in psychology. She wants to have her own practice.

“I decided to go to college because I knew that, without education, I would not be able to succeed at the level I wanted to reach,” said Lalla, who is able to pursue her education and a career helping others because of Federal loans. “I wanted to be able to gain knowledge about a lot of different subjects and communicate at a high intellectual level.”

Without federal aid programs, the future of hundreds, even thousands of La Verne students would be suddenly at risk. Obviously, the school’s president has seen the astounding return on investment in education in his 26 years in office, and his message during remarks at various events have become so familiar they’re almost a mantra.

“The problems of the world are going to be solved through education,” Morgan said. “We have to do everything we possibly can to give today’s students the opportunity to educate themselves so that they’re equipped to lead generations to come. I can’t imagine anything of greater importance to this nation and to its future.”

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