Central State University Director of Financial Aid Sonia Slomba shares her thoughts on the ABCs of student finance—improving accessibility, reducing student borrowing, and driving down the cost of administration—at this Ohio-based HBCU in this four-part blog series.
“The price tag alone of a college degree is very scary for families,” says Slomba, the DFA at Ohio-based Central State University. Statistics show that as many as 40% of low-income students admitted to college never end up enrolling. The main culprits: Complexity and confusion about that college price tag and where to find the money to cover it.
Sticker-shock: It’s a hurdle Slomba deals with daily.
Accessibility Starts with Information
“Our goal is really to teach students and families what the different funding sources are,” Slomba explains. “To give them all the tools necessary to make their decision.” She adds that many families don’t even consider applying for financial aid because they simply think college is just too expensive; that’s it’s not meant for them. She likens it to staying away from a BMW dealership just because you think you can’t afford a BMW.
Dispelling those myths is difficult. But just as there are options for financing cars, there are options for financing education—and the return on investment with education is tangible. “We spend a lot of time [with families] trying to break it down, to explain how it works,” says Slomba.
She acknowledges it can be challenging when families have limited means. But part of her job—part of improving accessibility to education—is demonstrating why higher education is both worth the price tag, and relevant in today’s society.
#1 Accessibility Issue: Funding
Central State University is the least-expensive college in Ohio for in-state students. Since CSU is a state school, it is always working to attract more Ohio residents. But CSU has also lowered its out-of-state student costs. In addition, it offers students from certain counties in nearby Detroit, Chicago, and Indianapolis areas a lower cost than other out-of-state students.
Making CSU affordable not only increases accessibility for students, but will help strengthen the state of Ohio. “The idea is that if they come to CSU at least for one year, there’s a higher chance that they’ll stay here, finish their studies here, and become contributors to Ohio’s economy,” Slomba explains.
Proving Value: An Uphill Battle
A unique issue that Historically Black Colleges and Universities face in terms of accessibility is demonstrating relevance. “How do you explain the value of an education from an HBCU institution—versus any other institution—to a low-income family?” asks Slomba. “How do you articulate that even though a big state school is giving you more funding to attend, it costs almost triple what we did to start with? It’s a perception issue.”
And the sticker price doesn’t really communicate the immense value of a culture-focused, close-knit community like that of CSU. “At larger schools, students can be one in a crowd of 10,000,” Slomba says. “But students often find they fit right into the family here—and we cost less.” Making education affordable and reinforcing the value of an HBCU education are key to the university’s approach to improving accessibility.
Watch for the next installment of this series, when Slomba shares her thoughts on the concept of borrowing—the ‘B’ of the ABCs of Student Finance.