The Boston Herald
By: Rochelle Stewart Rubino
November 9, 2010
Tough economic times can force some college students to put their education on the back burner. But a new financial aid program offered at Bunker Hill Community College (and expected soon at other colleges) aims to help students cover expenses that would otherwise cause them to drop courses for a semester or two - delaying their graduation.
The national Dreamkeepers program provides emergency financial assistance so students don't have to choose between staying in school and covering unexpected expenses like car repair, medical bills and child care.
And, according to DreamKeepers director Donald Lassere, students who get this money don't have to pay it back.
``Students receive it in the form of a grant,'' Lassere said. ``Since they are already faced with an emergency situation, we don't want to burden them with debt.''
Lassere said the point of the program is to help students overcome a temporary obstacle so they can pursue their educational goals.
Latisha Wilson, a sophomore at Bunker Hill Community College pursuing an associate's degree in psychology, benefitted from a similar financial aid program offered at BHCC before the inception of Dreamkeepers and said if it wasn't for the aid, she wouldn't be graduating on time.
When her son became ill a few semesters ago, Wilson had to withdraw from school. But she didn't want that to affect her anticipated graduation date.
``I had to take four classes over the summer (to catch up),'' she said.
Four classes in one semester means a steep tuition bill, plus the cost of books, transportation to and from school, on top of rent. Almost too much to manage, she said.
Wilson applied for the aid to help her pay for T passes.
``There was no way I could have made it without the help,'' she said.
Now, she'll graduate on time and plans to continue her education at Boston University, studying for a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in sociology.
Lassere said students who get the financial aid meet their educational goals. In fact, in 2008, the average re-enrollment rate for Dreamkeepers recipients was 84 percent.
Lassere said the average grant is around $523 and anyone in need is encouraged to apply for aid.
``We help students who need help,'' he said. ``We don't look at tax returns.''
Lassere said Bunker Hill Community College will also help students with their financial literacy.
``We want to help students manage their finances better so they don't encounter the same circumstances that brought them into that (financial) situation,'' he said.
Students will have access to a financial literacy tool which will help them create a budget and understand the financial aid process, such as credit and credit management.
``(The emergency assistance) is there for you to help you succeed so you won't have any stumbling blocks in your way,'' Wilson said.
``(Dreamkeepers) is a vehicle that helps colleges provide aid for students who are faced with difficult situations,'' Lassere said. ``We are super excited that the program has been extremely successful.''
Lassere said students interested in applying for the grant should speak with their college's financial aid department.