Accepted to university, but lacking the funds to go | June 5, 2015 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 5, 2015

Accepted to university, but lacking the funds to go

Nearly three dozen Palo Alto High seniors face financial hurdles to attending four-year college

by Elena Kadvany

For 33 of the 471 seniors who graduated from Palo Alto High School on Wednesday, the moment for celebration has not yet quite come.

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Staff Writer Elena Kadvany can be emailed at


14 people like this
Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 5, 2015 at 8:46 am

Elena - please keep us updated on the status of "Rise Together Education". At least for our family, our youngest just graduated and our annual PiE donation will go to this instead next year (no offense to PiE, its a great organization!).

21 people like this
Posted by Barron Park Dad of two
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 5, 2015 at 9:27 am

Military service offers many valuable options for everyone no matter your economic background. Be part of the less than 1% that has served since 9/11 to defend our Constitution and safety of our country.
1) ROTC scholarship = serve as a commissioned officer after earning a degree
2) Military reserve and national guard = qualify for bonuses, monthly income and tuition assistance programs
3) Active duty service = Post 9/11 GI bill is an amazing program.

I am a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy (no tuition), attended a physics PhD program funded by a fellowship, employer paid for Stanford tuition while I was working full-time and serving in the Navy Reserve. I have transferred by Post 9/11 GI bill benefits to my children (1-yo and 5-yo) to future use. It's unfortunate that so many schools do not allow military recruiters, or ROTC and service academy representatives.

35 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 5, 2015 at 9:32 am

I feel for these students! Congratulations on your graduation and may the future hold great promise for you.

A note on accuracy in this article: the cost of yearly tuition (fees) at San Francisco State University is $6,476, not $24,000. The latter figure refers to projected cost of attendance, including fees, housing, meals, transportation, books, supplies, and personal expenses. The difference between tuition and cost of attendance can cause great confusion. As a college instructor, I've heard of cases where this confusion has driven some would-be students away.

31 people like this
Posted by teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2015 at 10:56 am

As someone who teaches in the district and has been the product of community and state college, YOUR PLAN "B" SHOULD BE YOUR PLAN "A." There is NO REASON in the world why a graduating student who is low income and cannot afford it go directly to a 4 year. You are setting yourself up for financial failure. Many state colleges have transition plans directly from community college. DO NOT LET COUNSELORS SELL YOU SOMETHING RIGHT NOW IS NOT FEASIBLE. Your first two general ed year credits are the same NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO. DO NOT TAKE OUT LOANS. The long term stakes will be financially disastrous.

Like this comment
Posted by teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2015 at 10:57 am


13 people like this
Posted by Service Academy Mom
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 5, 2015 at 11:07 am

Our son went to the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. He graduated debt-free. Every year during parents weekend, my husband and I were able to attend Friday classes. The instruction was excellent. Class sizes were small. Our son has had amazing opportunities. He has spent a summer in the Arctic Circle. The commitment is 5 years after graduation. Granted the military is not for everyone, but this is an excellent opportunity. I believe that it is the only service academy that you do not need a nomination to get into. Admittance is based on merit, not on connections.

20 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 5, 2015 at 11:24 am

This applies to not only low income students but the population in general. There is a CNN special called Ivory Tower, which is highlighted here: Web Link

People should remember that student loans are always a debt - one cannot declare bankruptcy and avoid paying the debt.

Living Skills class at Paly has a good assignment where students chose their career and had to budget based upon the salary. They had to budget for rent, food, etc. but not student loans. Throw in taxes (which takes almost half) and it was enlightening to see that even earning $100,000 these days doesn't seem like enough.

30 people like this
Posted by Responsible
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 5, 2015 at 11:28 am

It's great that people are so generous, but SF State is primarily a commuter school. Why not just tell the student to live at home rather than expect others to pay inflated SF housing costs? I don't like the fact that we're raising a generation of kids who think they should get handouts at every turn. Students whose families aren't below the poverty line often have to attend a college that isn't their first choice simply because their families can't afford the full fare, or they go to community college.

2 people like this
Posted by shirley
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 5, 2015 at 11:44 am

There are two non-profits that have been in existence for several years that support low income students at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, and a very successful one for Mountain View/Los Altos school districts. The Phillipine journalist from Mountain View who won a Pulitzer Prize re: Virginia Tech campus shooting was the first recipient of their scholarship program. The assoc. in Los Altos assigns a mentor for each student candidate to assist he/she through the process of applying and continues through the college process with recipients. Why has it taken Palo Alto so long to assist first generation and low income students?

24 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2015 at 11:53 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

There are ways to pay for college -- even if your FAFSA EFC is $0. In fact, the $0 FAFSA EFC will maximize your access to grants, Federal Work Study and student loans (particularly Stafford subsidized loans). Student loans, of course, are a measure of last resort but they are always there if no other funding is found.

While the Pell Grant and other need-based grants might not pay for tuition at most public or private universities in California, they are enough to pay for tuition at a community college (and even some universities in other states).

My recommendation for any low-income students:

1.) Fill out your FAFSA.

2.) Fill out every scholarship that you can find (as early as the first semester of your junior year).

3.) Look for need-based scholarship assistance programs -- including programs like Questbridge (which is located here in Palo Alto), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or local university scholarships.

4.) Consider the cost of attending the schools of your choice. Many schools might be out-of-reach for all four years; however, if you are accepted at a school but cannot afford it, you should let the school know after you are accepted. They may reach out to you with great effort to help you find ways to afford it.

5.) Consider alternative paths. If you are accepted at a school that you cannot afford, they may allow you to transfer to the school after you attend a community college (with good grades, of course).

6.) Work, work, work! You may find funding for tuition and fees but still need money for room and board (and books, living expenses, etc...). Most schools have a plethora of student part-time jobs that will help cover the rest of your expenses.

7.) The university is there for you! Most schools will work with you in paying your tuition ESPECIALLY if your EFC is $0. They will allow delayed payments. At one point, I was able to keep a running debt that still allowed me to enroll in subsequent semesters even though I hadn't fully paid for the previous semester. The school's business office allowed me to do this by making monthly payments through my student part-time employment.

8.) Stay away from loans for your parents!!! Loans taken by parents are generally less helpful or forgiving and often place a terrible burden upon them. If loans are needed, go for the Stafford subsidized and, if necessary, the Stafford unsubsidized. Most of the rest (e.g., Perkins, FFEL, etc...) are just not good for the students or their parents and should rarely (if ever) considered and only if there are no other options (including a complete lack of Stafford loans).

9.) Consider local scholarships while you are in high school! You will be surprised how many scholarships that are local to the area are available to deserving students! I was able to pick up a 10-12 scholarships while I was still in high school. These are generally small -- but they accumulate and help with necessities (e.g., laptop, books, laundry, etc...).

10.) Not enrolling is not an option! Unless you're joining the military, Peace Corp or some other service organization (that may or may help you later with your education), you shouldn't consider an option of delaying or putting off your education -- even for a short time. Many people get "caught in a rut." If they earn an income, it may raise their FASFA EFC above $0 (and lower the amount of aid that you are eligible for). More importantly, much of the knowledge and skills -- and general scholarly habits -- are trained over 12 years of education. If you take time off, you lose some of those habits and forget some of the things that you learned (especially skills -- like Math -- that are enhanced by practice).

Good luck to all of those graduates!
Carpe diem! Seize the day!
Carpe opportunitatem! Seize the opportunity!

3 people like this
Posted by Tom Dennedy
a resident of Los Altos
on Jun 5, 2015 at 11:55 am

CNN: "These colleges will pay your student loan bills"
Web Link

'The schools offer the pledge through the LRAP Foundation, which was founded in 2008 by Peter Samuelson, who used Yale Law School's repayment program while doing human rights work in China. "It really made a difference in what I could do after graduation," Samuelson said.'

'Acting like an insurer, the foundation charges schools an annual fee for each student enrolled in the program. In return, it provides financial assistance for graduates who fall below certain income thresholds, which are based on salaries of recent graduates and other regional factors.'

14 people like this
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 5, 2015 at 1:09 pm

muttiallen is a registered user.

I want to echo the teacher who said DO NOT TAKE OUT ANY LOANS!! I have a friend who graduated from Gunn 3 years ago and was pushed to go to SF State instead of Foothill by counselors. She had mediocre grades in high school, poor study habits, and absolutely no family support -- financial or emotional. She went to SF state for 1.5 years, borrowed money for living expenses, then lost her scholarship due to poor grades. She's now working at Walmart so she can pay the loan debt. She should have gone to Foothill, lived at home, and learned to study at the college level first. But Gunn and Paly really push 4 year, live-away colleges.

20 people like this
Posted by Michele
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 5, 2015 at 1:21 pm

There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing your first two years of general Ed courses at Foothill. In fact, many students who are not low-income students do this, and then transfer to a four year institution for the final two years. The local community colleges have articulation agreements with the UCs and private universities in California which spell out exactly what classes the student should take. They even have a guaranteed admission to some of the UCs if the student meets certain grade criteria and takes the right classes. This is a great resource!

13 people like this
Posted by FOOTHILL COLLEGE (economically feasible and quality education)
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2015 at 3:24 pm

If you're more poor, like myself, then definitely go to Foothill for the first two General Education years of college. There is no point in going to all four years at a college if you can't afford it... Also, if you fail a class at SFSU it will have costed you about $1,000 + book(s) and other materials. If you fail a class at Foothill, you will have paid about $400 with the book included. (I did not fail a single class, just giving an example). Attending Foothill for 2 years was the best decision I ever made, the transfer process is very simple, and the school has proper resources set up to make the transition simple and easy.

The community college stigma has/is diminishing, students need to be made aware that community college is a viable alternative option. There should be no shame in going to a community college, especially a reputable one(s), such as Foothill/De Anza. In my opinion schools have been made into brands that are commercialized. A diploma is one thing, but the education and skills that you receive should be one's utmost priority.

8 people like this
Posted by Carol Mullin
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 5, 2015 at 3:41 pm

Just in case members of the community are not aware, Pursuit of Excellence, POE, founded in 1984 has been helping first generations and financially needy students from the community, including students from Paly and Gunn, attend college for over 30 years. It's definitely not a new problem and there are and have been solutions like POE and PCF (Peninsula Community Fund) available to these students.

This year, 49 Paly students attended the POE information session, but only 3 students applied for the scholarship. By contrast, 33 Los Altos students and 21 Woodside students applied. Of 131 applicants, 3 were from Paly and 5 from Gunn. Why more Paly (and Gunn) students did not apply is unclear and very unfortunate for those who might have qualified. Although POE can't fund everyone, we would love to support more Paly and Gunn students! Over the years POE has funded 50 students from Paly and Gunn and this year will award approximately $500,000 to its total group of over 150 students who are attending college throughout CA and elsewhere. For anyone who is interested here is the website:

We urge next years first generation high school seniors who wish to attend college to come to POE's information session at their high school and submit and application.

We plan to work with both Paly and Gunn to get more students to complete scholarship applications.

18 people like this
Posted by You'll be sorry!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2015 at 5:31 pm

My nephew joined the military as a medic because he and his family could not afford any more college--especially medical school. He qualified for med school, but could not qualify for a student loan. The Army said they would put him through med school if he spent three years working in the military as a medic.

Well, they sent him to Afghanistan, to a base in Kandahar that was under near-constant fire fom missiles and suicide bombers. His superiors " voluntold" him for a mission to another base with three other medics. Their humvee was hit by an IED-loaded car, and my nephew was the only survivor. He is now at the Palo Alto VA with a traumatic brain injury that has permanently disabled him, as well as changing his personality forever.

So much for his medical career--it ended before it started.

Think hard before signing up for military service--you may never even live tosee your college days,

20 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2015 at 8:02 pm

> Think hard before signing up for military service--you may never even
> live tosee your college days,

The military is a dangerous place, by definition. It's main goal is to destroy, or neutralize, the enemy. It is no place for people who believe that it is some sort of summer camp that can be used for personal gain.

That said--very few people have been killed/injured in the current military deployments, compared to WWII. More people are killed in Chicago than in the last couple of years in Afghanistan.

Most people are able to contribute to their unit's mission, learn, earn, returning to civilian life a little older, a lot wiser and a lot more confident in their ability to handle their own affairs.

The military is a very meaningful option for people who claim to not have the funds that are needed to go to the school of their choice. There are also other options--like getting a job, saving money to pay your way, and applying for scholarships from the thousands of sources that exist. And as suggested above--going to a community college is clearly a cost-effective alternative to get started.

The belief that everyone should be able to graduate from high school and go to any college, or university, in the world without having made any effort to secure the funding necessary to pay their bills is delusional.

9 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 5, 2015 at 8:45 pm

[Post removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by AlexDeLarge
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2015 at 11:30 pm

My son was about a 2.5 gpa from Paly, (my alma mater) then proceeded on to Uni of San Francisco (my alma mater) and partied his way out of college. He then applied his newly found maturity to Foothill College for two years and was accepted to UCLA. He could never have done this from Paly. It's life, it is that simple.

6 people like this
Posted by Tom Dennedy
a resident of Los Altos
on Jun 6, 2015 at 8:49 am

Tom Dennedy is a registered user.

Community colleges are a great resource, but the reality is that students at 4-year institutions are 2-3 times more likely to graduate. See National Center for Education Statistics: Web Link

There are lots of reasons, many of which are beyond the control of community colleges--more commuters, less socialization, etc. Graduation rates are highly correlated to a students first 72 hours on campus as a freshman.

6 people like this
Posted by Jean
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 6, 2015 at 9:14 am

Instead of applying to a 4 year university, it would be so much better for many students to attend a community college such as Foothill or DeAnza. Many students feel the pressure to attend "big" colleges and universities when it would be best for the student to get their feet wet through community colleges. They can save $$ with that decision and have the $ available when they decide to transfer.

6 people like this
Posted by Jules
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 6, 2015 at 9:55 am

Wow, so impressed with this advisor--thanks for caring so much about our students. I would love to donate to this non-profit. I fully understand the desire of these students to go to a four-year college like their wealthier peers- and support them in doing so, but don't underestimate the value of Foothill College! My son went for one year and it is one serious, excellent college!

8 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 6, 2015 at 11:46 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

I agree, Bob, Paly Parent, Tom, Jean and Jules. High school graduates must take ownership of their lives and do whatever necessary to obtain their education. It isn't often given to people on a silver platter (and, if it was, it might not be as appreciated).

I agree with Jules about funding organizations that assist deserving students who might not receive any funding from parents or grandparents. School costs have risen so drastically over the last decade -- especially in California. It is now virtually impossible for a student to work to pay for tuition, fees, room and board at most schools. This is where a community college makes sense for all or part of the journey toward a baccalaureate degree. I would also urge those of us who have benefited from a degree to either donate to organizations that help fund deserving students or create a scholarship for deserving students.

My husband and I are creating a scholarship that will assist students at our alma mater. My husband wants to make the scholarship in my parents' name -- who worked so hard for us to have the opportunities afforded to us by this nation. Most school alumni organizations help with the set-up process. We aren't rich (far from it), but we would like to do what we can right now and hopefully expand when we can afford to.

7 people like this
Posted by Foothill Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 6, 2015 at 12:06 pm

There are pros and cons. Yes, community college is practical because it's easier financially and academically, but it's not really enjoyable, as the student is still living at home, kind of like in a holding pattern. My son is back for summer break and matured after his first year of living away at college, and he was already mature when he left. Some of my instructors at Foothill were actually better than the profs at my Pac-10 college and academics were easier at Foothill so it was a good way to complete some uninteresting G.E. classes. It doesn't really matter that you're a year or two older when you transfer and live in the dorms - no one cares or even asks your age. Attending a CC also means one doesn't need to stress over SAT scores. Attending Foothill is an easier way to get to a UC than stressing over grades, SATs, APs, extracurriculars. The biggest hit people take when attending a CC is on the ego.

6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 6, 2015 at 2:52 pm

@Nayeli, for those interested in endowing a scholarship, we should remind people that many employers will match donations to accredited colleges and universities. Also if anyone has high-tech or other company shares that have increased in price, there are tax advantages to donating those directly, rather than just writing a check to the school. You don't have to be rich to get a good deal of leverage. In fact if your income is too high, you won't get the deduction.

It takes about $20,000 to endow a scholarship that pays out $1000 a year, which could be a rolling renewable $250 per year per freshman, sophomore, junior and senior (i.e. four students are benefitting every year). That's about the minimum I've heard of that a college will consider. They'll generally allow 5 years to build it up, so that's just donating $4000 per year, which could be $1000 in stock that has doubled to $2000, plus an employer's $2000 matching funds. And a $2000 write-off which can save about $700 in income taxes. If you are lucky, it is almost free! Of course there will be encouragement to build the amount further in future years, with ultimate targets more like $80,000.

Your mileage may vary. Additional views welcome.

2 people like this
Posted by A
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 6, 2015 at 8:39 pm

I don't know how much it costs to attend a community college these days. I went to Foothill in the 1970s and it was very reasonable. I then transferred to a 4 year university of my choice. While I was at Foothill I majored in Dental Assisting because at the time there was a down turn in the economy and Dental Assisting was something in which I could get a job. I didn't decide on my major until I got to the University of Arizona but at the time everything was so much cheaper.

I think doing the first two years at a community college really worth while and if you are in a program it gives you something to strive for.

The last thing I would do would be to get mired in debt. But I do think you have to think about what you want to do and that takes good counseling.

2 people like this
Posted by Carlitos Waysman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 7, 2015 at 12:12 am

Is commendable that those low income youngsters want to attend a 4 year college of their choosing, but their High School did a bad job of spelling to them all the details that entails going away to a 4 year college; they forgot the most important aspect of all: Money.

Was their High School expecting for those kid's parent to win the Lottery Jackpot before the kids signed up for College. Obviously none of those kids is smart enough for a full Scholarship to have been offered by their elected Colleges.
Lets stop asking for handouts and learn that in life you have to earn everything, specially if you are not lucky to have been born with a silver spoon in your mouth.

Or , if you are adventurous and a go getter, I read a BBC report this week, telling about the increasing numbers of Americans leaving for Germany, and having a free College Education in their prestigious Universities, you should check it out.

Talk about what the priorities are in both countries.

Like this comment
Posted by Amb
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 7, 2015 at 11:35 am

I believe in equity, only because I understand the amount of factors that can have an influence for those who
have it at a disadvantage, and are so voiceless.

Stephanie's story opened up my eyes, the disadvantage that she has yet her determination allowed her to continue. A WELL DONE JOB Stephanie has done and hopefully with the right recourses she can continue. She should go to the school that she desires. Why reach for the clouds, if you can reach for the starts. Living in poverty and who are first generation chances of graduating with a bachelors are very low.

There is REASON in the world why a graduating student who is low income and is unable to afford it should go directly to a 4 year. Yes the first two years of community college classes are the same but, the transfer rates at a community college are disturbing. How are kids standing on the bottom step of the socio economic scale able to succeed? Advance move up the ladder.

This is a great!!

Best of luck for you two, Alan and Stephanie

4 people like this
Posted by Catherine Crystal Foster
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 7, 2015 at 5:54 pm

This is a heartbreaking story, but it doesn't have to be. As Carol Mullin commented above, there are successful local organizations that offer resources targeted to low-income first-gen college students from Palo Alto high schools. Pursuit of Excellence, Web Link, the Peninsula College Fund,Web Link, Gunn Foundation Scholarship Web Link, Rotary Club Scholarships, and dozens more through special funds at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation all provide need-based scholarships to local students. As former Executive Director of the Peninsula College Fund, I opened our scholarship, training, mentoring, and internship program up to Paly and Gunn students two years ago specifically to serve students like the ones profiled. I applaud the generous acts of the people described in this article, and urge community members who want to give in support of students like these to consider the excellent programs that currently exist in our backyard.

8 people like this
Posted by Article Misinforms
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 7, 2015 at 8:12 pm

@Elena (the author of this article), per the SFSU website, tuition for the Fall semester was $2,085 including all the miscellaneous fees so yearly tuition is $4,170, not $25,000. That's a rather large error! If your $25,000 includes living expenses, I'm confused. This student currently lives in EPA (not sure how she was allowed to attend PA schools if she was first homeless, then residing in EPA...) and San Francisco State is easily commutable from the peninsula. Lots of kids do it as do many folks working in the city. Let's not teach kids to feel entitled. What will improve her future is an attitude that working hard, despite hardships, will be rewarded. Entitled attitudes rarely bring success.

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