Jamie Barnes, College & Career Coordinator
One of the best parts of my job as the College & Career Coordinator for Hope House is taking our teen moms on college campus tours. I love nothing more than seeing their eyes light up with excitement as they see new possibilities for their own future… a future they never imagined!
“Can you believe that I’m going to college? I never thought this would be me in a million years!”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that statement of wonder at the end of a college tour. I also get to witness a new zest for life.
The sad truth is that many teen moms are told that they won’t amount to much in life and will be lucky if they even make it through high school. It’s my job to expand their perception of reality, and a college tour is a great tool for showing a teen mom that she is capable of anything she puts her mind to — even going to college.
The next step is completing the online entrance and financial aid applications for their college of choice. Unfortunately, this process often leads to frustration and anxiety because online college applications are not user friendly. Expect to run into issue after issue, requiring patience, dedication and perseverance.
The biggest hurdle stems from the section of the application that requires information about the teen mom’s parents (required for all applicants under age 23).
This doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal, but it is! Our teen moms often come from non-traditional families or have been raised by a grandparent, aunt or even a sibling. Some of them haven’t had contact with their parents in years. Submitting an application without her parent’s information automatically puts her in the “out-of-state residency” category for tuition.
The ramifications are significant. Labeled an out-of-state resident, her tuition is higher — sometimes twice as much as an in-state resident.
The most frustrating part of this process is that each teen mom I have helped is in fact a resident of Colorado and generally has been for years, if not for all of her life. However, because they cannot answer information about their parents, they are wrongly flagged. To compound matters, Colorado is one of the most difficult states in the nation for proving residency.
I am currently working with Maria, a Hope House teen mom, to change her residency status to in-state.
Maria’s story is fairly common. She moved to Colorado three years ago. Her parents, who live in another state, basically disowned her and her son when she 17, offering her no support whatsoever.
The financial aid process I am walking Maria through, step by step, is time consuming and filled with many pages of paperwork and required documents.
The first step is proving she is a Colorado resident by “Petitioning for In-State Tuition.” The necessary documentation includes five different items demonstrating that she has lived in Colorado for at least one year.
We also have to get notarized forms from her parents stating that they haven’t financially helped Maria in any way for at least one year — otherwise known as Emancipation for Tuition Purposes.
This is proving to be extremely difficult because her parents are not cooperative. Maria is at their mercy and the clock is ticking. If we do not submit these documents before the first day of classes, Maria will not be able to attend school. Talk about discouraging!
Without in-state residency, Maria simply cannot afford to go school because the funds she receives through FAFSA (Pell Grant) and the College Opportunity Fund cover most of in-state tuition costs but fall far short of covering out-of-state tuition rates.
This is just one teen mom’s story. There are many more like it! It’s frustrating and discouraging, which is why it’s very important that I don’t lose heart. It has also proven important for me to make friends with the Financial Aid Departments on every campus in our area. In fact, I have “go-to” people on each of our four local community college campuses. They help me jump through hoop after hoop, proving the importance of these relationships.
The process of getting a teen mom into college will be an ongoing challenge. However, it is one we must be willing to face head on because our teen moms depend on us. They need us to advocate for them and help them pursue their education. Their future depends on it!
When the days get long and the battle seems relentless, I remember these words: “I never thought I would be going to college!” This revelation and the sheer joy on a teen mom’s face as we walk around a college campus is what makes the fight so very worth it!
This is what it’s all about… changing lives one document at a time.