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Figuring it Out

Sophomore Andie Mitchell first learned about a late-breaking tuition increase while watching WRAL news. “My first reaction was, ‘Are you serious?’” she says.

Mitchell had already factored in the $150 increase for in-state students announced in the spring. But she didn’t know where she’d find another $750.

The environmental engineering major, who works three part-time jobs, including seasonal lifeguard duty, makes an effort to know where every penny goes. According to her summer calculations, she had just enough to pay the bills.

Mitchell, a Pack Promise scholar, called the scholarships and financial aid office for information. Meanwhile, she spread the word to her friends at NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill, some of whom were unaware of the increase.

Pitching In

Mitchell’s call was one of thousands that came in to the financial aid office. About half the undergraduates at NC State — 47 percent — qualify for financial aid.

In just two weeks, staff members recalculated the mix of grants, scholarships and loans for almost 8,000 students. “We were scurrying,” says Julie Mallette, associate vice provost and director of scholarships and financial aid.

While other universities closed their offices to update aid packages, NC State remained open to serve students who were on campus for orientation. A core group of financial aid staff set aside the first two hours of the day for uninterrupted work, while others took care of calls and walk-in visitors.

The good news for students like Mitchell was the fact that NC State put about one-third of the funds from the tuition increase toward need-based financial aid; more than required by law. In all, about $8.5 million in additional aid was available, Mallette says. “We had a huge increase in average financial need for 2010-11,” she adds.

Financial aid advisers worked to help students obtain more grant and scholarship funding. Students who needed to borrow had help figuring out how to minimize debt and obtain the best interest rates.

Colleagues in the cashier’s office teamed up with financial aid to reach out to families.

“We had a coordinated, concerted effort to share similar messages with students and parents, especially when we could sense they felt panicked,” Mallette says. “We wanted to do everything we could to see that enrollment wasn’t impacted.”

Holding On

A few days after her call, Mitchell was able to view her revised financial aid online.

She found she had qualified for more grant funding, which doesn’t have to be repaid. She’s also fortunate to have a Golden Leaf Foundation rural student scholarship through the academic year. Next year, when that scholarship expires, she may have to borrow money, which she hopes to keep to a minimum.

Like Mitchell, financial aid staff are also looking ahead to next year’s tuition. They’ve already met to brainstorm ways to help students through the upcoming academic year.

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in The Bulletin, the official faculty and staff news source at NC State University.