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Mallette’s Parting Wisdom

As the retirement clock ticks down, Julie Mallette keeps right on doing what she’s done has for 31 years: Helping students and their families figure out how to pay for college.

Mallette, associate vice provost and director of scholarships and financial aid, has a few words of wisdom to share and a party to attend before retirement this month. Friends and colleagues are invited to a reception in her honor from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 20 at the Joyner Visitor Center.

Mallette sat down for a Q & A about keeping college affordable earlier this fall with NC State magazine. Here are some of her insights as leader of a 30-person staff that distributes about $300 million a year in grants, loans and scholarships to about 23,000 students. That’s more than 10 times the amount of financial aid Mallette distributed when she became the office’s director in 1992 after stints with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at Greensboro.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Helping students and parents figure out how to finance an education. I came from a family of seven kids, and we all got to go to college. Even though it was a struggle for my family, it was possible for us all to get an education with some help from financial aid. And I like to see other students have that opportunity.

What’s the toughest part of the job?

Not being able to give families the answers they want sometimes. We’re dealing with stressed-out parents and the financial challenges they’re facing … and we simply can’t always address their needs as they’d like.

Has the availability of financial aid kept pace with tuition increases?

Total financial aid, yes. But a lot of that increase has been in the form of loans. We have not necessarily kept pace with the demand for (merit) scholarships and grant support for the students that we have recruited to the university. But in terms of dollars available, there are resources for families—especially if they’re willing to borrow.

Has the amount of need increased?

When I first came here, the percent of students who demonstrated financial need was about a third of NC State’s total enrollment. Approximately half of our students now demonstrate financial need, but far more than that apply for aid.

Is it true that many merit scholarships at NC State are not offered to incoming freshmen?

That’s correct. NC State doesn’t admit anyone who’s not academically able to be successful here, so all entering freshmen are deserving of merit scholarship support. Unfortunately the dollars are simply not there to provide a scholarship for every worthy incoming freshman. Most NC State colleges want to make sure their incoming freshmen are committed to the major and doing well in that major before the college will commit its merit-based scholarship resources to them. I can’t fault them for that.

What are some common mistakes parents make about financial aid?

The most common mistake parents make is assuming that there are lots of scholarships available, and their child is certainly the best and the brightest, so of course he or she will get a scholarship. We admit a strong group of students, and even students who may have been valedictorian or salutatorian of their high school classes may be sort of the middle of the pack academically when they are admitted to NC State. We need to do something to help them understand the realities of the competition they are facing.

Any practical advice for parents or students applying for financial aid?

What I would like to see is practical advice issued a lot earlier so parents will be motivated to start saving for college sooner. Parents who are employed and earning decent incomes will find that their children are not going to qualify for as much need-based financial aid as they might have thought they would. And their aid options may be primarily loans. So planning ahead to save as much money for their child’s education—and not touch those savings, even when the economy is tough—is important.