In 1978, when Fran Van Slyke Zaslofsky (pictured) became financial aid coordinator for the College of Continuing Education, many students paid for their education with savings and part-time employment. During the next two decades, federal and state-funded grant programs generally kept pace with tuition and fees.
But over the last decade, University tuition and fees have doubled, while the median income for Minnesotans has dropped. Most students now use loans to bridge the gap between what they owe and what they receive in other financial aid. But they worry about taking out loans that they might not be able to repay. In 2010, the average loan debt for U of M students graduating with a bachelor's degree was over $26,000.
Because of the recession, many students are unemployed or underemployed, companies are reducing or eliminating employee tuition benefits, and financial aid is in flux. Fortunately, CCE students are able to turn to Van Slyke for help finding the resources they need.
"I was able to attend college when it was much more affordable, and I have always wanted to help students who lacked the resources to begin or continue their education," Van Slyke says.
She works closely with CCE staff and helps students navigate the University, understand the financial aid process, and reach their educational goals. It's a challenging job, but one that brings her great satisfaction.
Van Slyke especially enjoys awarding scholarships that provide access to the College's wide range of courses and programs. "CCE scholarship recipients are remarkably diverse. They range in age from early 20s to late 70s, and many are first generation college students," she says. "Seeing their excitement and relief is an extraordinary experience. They are so grateful for this help."
She notes that demand for CCE scholarships has increased as students struggle to pay their educational costs. "The need for scholarships has never been greater. That's why I contribute to CCE scholarships. Every single gift, large or small, has a real and positive impact on students' lives," Van Slyke says. "I've seen first hand how our combined contributions can ease the way for students who need assistance at a critical time.
Many scholarship recipients tell Van Slyke that they plan to become donors one day. In fact, several have already contributed. "Seeing them 'give back' after they graduate is one of the best rewards I've ever received," she says.