Billions Of Dollars For College In Texas

"I'm seeing more and more of this information come across my desk about the benefits of going to college and getting an education," says Devon Wiggins, Financial Aid Director at Tyler Junior College.

She is speaking at a financial aid workshop at Chapel Hill High School. These seniors are taking the first step in a decision that could impact the rest of their lives.

Senior, Victoria Willingham says, "There are 7 people in my family and in the fall of 2008 when I go to school my brother will also be attending so we definitely need help to pay for both of us."

"I learned about the pell grants and everything. I was very confused about that but thankfully I came tonight and I learned more about it," says William Sanchez, sitting next to his parents.

$4-billion is available every year in Texas to pay for college in the form of grants, scholarships, work-study programs and low interest loans, most of it goes unused.

"A lot of people think their parents make too much money. So they're not going to be eligible." Devon goes on to say, "Another myth is that you have to make good grades in high school to get financial aid, that is not true. You do have to be a successful student to continue getting financial aid because there are some standards that are set."

So who is eligible? According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, any student interested in higher education at a university, community college or technical school is eligible in some form.

They say right now is the time when seniors should be applying for financial aid. The fastest and easiest way to do that, is online.  Once you have gathered all the pertinent information, it only takes about 15-20 minutes online to fill out the FAFSA, which stands for Free Application For Federal student aid.

"I had the counselors working with me to fill it out so it was simple," says Billie Canada. She is a graduate of Chapel Hill High School and the first person in her family to attend college. She's now a sophomore at Tyler Junior College.

"I have a semester left. I'm a nursing major and financial aid has helped me out a lot. I got to stay on campus. I got the feel of staying on campus and meeting new people. I got all my books paid for. I even got a laptop. Financial aid helped me get a laptop," says Billie.

Unlike Billie, thousands of Texans don't even apply to college each year, assuming they can't afford it. As a result, college enrollment is not keeping up with population growth in Texas and that, experts say, will have a serious long-term effect on Texas' standard of living.

William Sanchez knows his family can't afford college but his parents have encouraged him to seek help and reach his dreams. His father, Luis Armendriez, says, "I recommend for the parents to get more involved with the kids education and they're going to find out lots of things."

The bottom line, getting a college education is an investment in your future and money should never be an and Gillian joins us now with more on the help available to fill out the application.

The application, in and of its self, can be overwhelming. That's where KLTV comes in. We are working with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to offer our viewers a toll free phone number to call for help tomorrow night, February 12. It's a project called "College For Texans." I will be in Austin joined by a phone bank full of financial aid experts as our viewers call in and get their questions answered immediately about how to apply for financial aid.

We also want to give you a consumer warning about applying for financial aid. There are some scams out there that say "for a small fee we can fill out the FAFSA for you" or "for a fee we'll find you more financial aid."  You should never pay for help, the application process is free.

Again, that help will be at your fingertips tomorrow night during the phone bank in Austin from 5-11 PM. In the meantime, we've set up a link for you to get more information on this project. Just go back to our homepage and click on "College For Texans." That will give you a little time to look over the application and gather the information you need and then tomorrow night you can call with any questions.

We'll have the number for you to call tomorrow during our 5, 6 and 10 p.m. Newscasts.

Gillian Sheridan, Reporting