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    Richard Macias, a student at the Art Institute of California-Inland Empire, discusses financial aid options with Bola Soyemi, Director of Financial Aid.

    (SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.) “Yes, the nation is in an economic crisis,” agrees Bola Soyemi, Director of Student Financial Services for the Art Institute of California – Inland Empire. “But funds for college are still available. It’s just that parents and students don’t realize it.”

    Students considering an education at an Art Institute school most likely have a definite career goal, as the education they provide focuses on training people to work in creative fields. But, as with almost all careers, these students need to prepare for their goals with a college education.

    “I hope to have a job doing what I love, so when I awaken each morning my job is something more of an adventure, rather than something to just pay the bills,” said Alurra Hughes, a senior at Redlands High School who hopes to attend The Art Institute of California — Inland Empire after graduation.

    Alurra seized a great opportunity earlier this year, when she entered and won The Art Institute of California –Inland Empire’s annual poster contest. She has already won a $3,000 scholarship, and has an opportunity to increase that amount to a full scholarship if she wins a competition of first-place winners from participating schools of The Art Institutes.

    But even if she doesn’t win the full scholarship, the financial aid staff of The Art Institute of California-Inland Empire will help Alurra find the resources she needs to pursue a degree at their school. They did the same two years ago for Alyssa Mees, who is now one of the school’s first graduates and works full-time in her dream job as a graphic designer.

    The Art Institute of California — Inland Empire has helped most of the more than 750 current students put together financial aid packages so that they too can pursue their education and career goals.

    In some cases, Soyemi states, parents aren’t clear on the value and opportunities a higher education provides. This leads to a lack of parental support and commitment towards sending a child to college.

    “I believe that more families should change their mindset towards education and embrace the opportunities that come with having a college degree,” Soyemi said. “The opportunities do come with cost, of course, but funds for college are still available.”

    On the Internet, Google’s search engine spells it out. There are five million hits under “scholarship search,” two and a half million sites for “student financial aid” and in our state alone there are 700,000 sites under “California student financial aid.”

    The United States Department of Education provides more than $83 billion in loans and non-repayable grants for higher education. That makes up fully 60 percent of the nation’s student aid funding. More than nine million students are dependent on this aid for their college education. And, experts point out, millions of available dollars go unused every single year.

    Soyemi, who heads a staff of 10, says, “Approximately 90 percent of the students at our school were on some financial aid program last year, ranging from hundreds of dollars in support to many thousands.” These might take the form of federal, state or institution grants, depending on current budget allocations.

    “My biggest task,” Soyemi adds, “is encouraging students and their parents to not disqualify themselves by simply failing to apply for aid. Particularly the parents, who may not realize that funds are available.”

    “All the student or parents have to do to start the financial planning process is go to any college or university financial aid office and fill out the FAFSA form. That stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Then you simply ask what else is available.”

    Every year The Art Institute of California — Inland Empire gives over $150,000 in scholarships from $3,000 to $15,000 each. For details, go to www.artinstitutes.edu/Admissions/FinancialAid.aspx

    There might be scholarships from local businesses or service organizations, state supplied grants, funds from the college itself and numerous student loan programs in which interest rates are low and repayment doesn’t begin until the education years are completed.

    There are basically two categories of financial aid: achievement-based, which encompasses a student’s skills, abilities or talent, qualifying him or her for scholarships; and need-based, looking at the family’s financial condition.

    Within those areas, four types of financial assistance are offered:

    Scholarships are essentially “gifts” not requiring repayment. There are those, of course, for high-achieving academics, but there are additionally scholarships for exceptional skill in, say, the medical arena, and for standout talent that might include athletics or theater.

    In the U.S., there are more than 1.5 million scholarships available, providing in excess of $1 billion in educational assistance.

    Then, there are grants, which also do not need to be repaid, for a student’s unique or proven abilities.

    Loans exist as well, primarily from the schools, lending institutions, individuals or organizations. These funds do need to be repaid, but at low interest rates over a number of years, beginning when the student completes or terminates his or her education.

    And fourth, schools frequently offer work-study programs in which the student takes on part-time employment to supplement income while at the same time gaining valuable experience in the workforce, what many consider the “real world.”

    Soyemi stresses that if a student has the family support and the personal drive for a college education, this should never let a difficult financial situation stand in the way.

    Financial aid still exists, in the billions of dollars.

    The Art Institute of California – Inland Empire offers Bachelor of Science degrees in Game Art & Design, Culinary Management, Graphic Design, Web Design & Interactive Media, Interior Design, Fashion Design, Fashion & Retail Management and Media Arts & Animation. There are also Associate of Science degrees in Graphic Design and Culinary Arts. Each program is offered on a year-round basis, allowing students to work uninterrupted toward their degrees.

    It’s not too late to start classes. Courses begin Aug. 21, with offerings in the days, evenings and on weekends for new and reentry students. For details or a tour of the campus call (909) 915-2100, or go on line to artinstitutes.edu/inlandempire.

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