Students encouraged to seek scholarships, avoid debt

Fifty-five percent of Arkansas students will graduate from college with an average debt of $23,324, according to the latest figures available through the California-based Institute for College Access and Success.

Although most education advocates agree that scholarship funding goes a long way towards mitigating debt, some students fail to realize just how much aid is available.

One example includes the estimated 75 percent of nontraditional college students in the U.S. This so-called “new majority” includes commuters who are juggling their families and jobs, along with school.

Nontraditional students sometimes miss the vast number of scholarships available to them, according to Cynda Alexander, nontraditional student programs coordinator at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

“It can be daunting,” Alexander said. “But the money is out there if the student is willing to put in the effort.”

Student takes advantage of scholarship opportunities

Wendy Lyons, UALR scholarship recipientThat was the case for Wendy Lyons, 43, a professional and technical writing major.

Lyons earned enough in scholarships to cover her tuition, fees, and books in full for the 2014 spring semester, and she knew exactly what she wanted to do with the $500 left after all her college expenses were paid.

She decided to reinvest in the university by buying a $500 lifetime membership to the UALR Alumni Association knowing that the fees help support student scholarships.

“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” she said.

Lyons’ first success with applying and receiving any kind of scholarship came from the Alumni Association. That $500 scholarship was enough to help pay for all her textbooks, saving her hundreds of dollars.

“From that first scholarship everything just snowballed,” said Lyons, who spent several months sifting through scholarship applications after she attended an on-campus workshop offered by the UALR Office of Campus Life specifically geared toward non-traditional students.

The workshop was presented by Alexander, Derek Boyce, alumni membership coordinator, and Stephanie Conrad, private scholarship coordinator.

“I was flying blind,” admitted Lyons. “I never understood how financial aid worked or much of anything about scholarships, so I was going by the seat of my pants for a while.”

The lack of scholarship applicants is not unusual, according to Alexander, who said only 30 percent of available funding is distributed because of low applicant numbers.

It is indicative of the challenge educators face in recruiting students who believe the only way through school is substantial debt, she said.

“What these non-traditional students need to understand is that people want to give money to this applicant pool because (students) are such a great investment,” Alexander said.

Apply by March 1

Single Mother scholarship
UALR has numerous private scholarships available to current undergraduate and graduate students, as well as incoming students.

Students can complete the private scholarship application and find information on scholarships offered by the UALR Alumni Association and each academic college.

The deadline to apply is March 1.

To learn more, contact Conrad at 501.569.3035 or privatescholarships@ualr.edu.

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