The Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama has created what staff call a one-stop shop to guide families through what can be a long and complicated financial aid process. The organization has previously hosted an annual financial aid seminar for local parents and students, but attendance has dwindled in recent years.
Scholarship Central, as the website is called, provides much of the information provided at those yearly meetings and hosts some of the same speakers through online videos.
“It’s available at the fingertips of the students and parents who can’t always make a seminar because of their busy lives,” said Eula Tatman, vice president for grants, scholarships and initiatives at the Community Foundation.
Martin Weldon, assistant director of scholarships and veterans’ affairs at Jacksonville State University, is featured in one of the site’s videos.
He sees the move from the scholarship night to the digital resource as a way of keeping up with today's youth, who he believes are more likely to watch a video or follow a link for information than comb through packets of information.
“I see it when we have preview days,” he said. “We hand out a ton of paper and at the end of the day we see it thrown in the trash.”
He added that his department is planning to replace its website’s current Q&A section with a series of short video clips to make the information more appealing to students.
Scholarship Central provides portals of information on the foundation’s own scholarships, plus those at the local, state and national levels. In addition, the site links to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a prerequisite for students to receive most types of financial aid. Many colleges and universities in the state are also represented at Scholarship Central, with links guiding visitors to scholarship information on each school’s website.
Tatman said JSU has been an excellent partner in the production and editing of informational videos on the website, and Anniston-based WideNet Consulting designed the site itself.
One scholarship the foundation is trying to promote is the Isaiah Evans Litigation Scholarship, from a fund established as part of a legal settlement. Any person who owned property in Calhoun County between 1999 and 2010 is eligible to apply for the scholarship individually or on behalf of a spouse, children, grandchildren or dependents. Scholarships, which range from $250-$500, are limited to one per property, but students can receive more than one scholarship if they own more than one property or have additional relatives who are eligible property owners. The Evans Litigation Scholarship fund is available through April 16, 2016.
JSU’s Weldon said he thinks the new website is a better resource for the community.
“If nothing else, it makes it available more than once a year,” he said.
When Anniston High School guidance counselor Sherry Baxter found out about the foundation’s Scholarship Central webpage, she added a link to her own list of resources on the school’s website.
Baxter, who is responsible for the high school’s junior and senior students, said the foundation’s annual financial aid night was always helpful, but the new resource is an improvement.
“Just having it at their fingertips that they can go right there to the computer,” she said, “It’s just better.”
While students will listen to adults, Baxter said, they don’t always hear what adults say. But, she added “they’ll go to the Web and even though it’s the same information, it’ll suddenly make sense.”
Baxter encourages parents to take an active role in their students’ college and financial aid search and to begin looking into information in their junior year.
“I don’t think parents realize what a pivotal role they play in the process,” Baxter said. Information on scholarships and financial aid is readily available, she said, but parents shouldn’t depend on students to bring it to their attention because they are not always as motivated to put work into applications as they would be with some parental encouragement.
“Communicate with the school or counselor because the students don’t always meet that deadline and it’s important,” she said.
Weldon said he thinks the one-stop-shop concept will help ease the stress for parents and students overwhelmed by the volume of steps and deadlines.
“It has a wealth of information,” Tatman said, “and hopefully it can help them in their path or journey to going to school.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.