Tyrone Harris was one of six Florida college students who participated in a panel called “Money Talks: A Candid Conversation with Florida Students” at the 2018 Florida College Access Network Summit. The panelists discussed their experiences applying for college, managing their work-study balance, and much more. This story is a follow-up to Tyrone’s experiences navigating the financial aid process.
Despite taking about half his customary number of classes, Tyrone Harris says Fall 2018 ranks among his most challenging semesters.
Tyrone, 21, recently began his third year at Pasco-Hernando State College, where he is studying to become a mental health counselor in the college’s Human Services program. But ahead of the 2018-19 academic year, Tyrone was selected for verification, a process required by the federal government to ensure information submitted on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is accurate.
“I submitted all my Pell paperwork, and there was an issue with both my tax information and my mother’s (tax information), who is my guardian,” said Tyrone, who requested and ultimately submitted electronic transcripts to the college’s financial aid office after being selected for verification this past summer.
About one-third of FAFSA filers are selected for verification each year. Starting with the 2012-13 school year, the U.S. Department of Education implemented a verification system to select applications based on a set of federally-identified factors.
A National College Access Network (NCAN) analysis of federal data shows students are much more likely to get flagged if they are eligible for need-based aid. NCAN’s analysis further shows that low-income students selected for verification are about 22 percentage points less likely to receive a Pell Grant than those who don’t.
Tyrone, who paid for his first two years at Pasco-Hernando State using a combination of federal Pell funds and scholarship money courtesy of Take Stock in Children, originally planned to register for five classes during the fall. Instead, he is taking three courses: CLP2140: Abnormal Psychology, CGS1100: Microcomputer Applications, and MAT1033: Intermediate Algebra.
“This has been one of my roughest semesters, and I usually average five or six courses,” Tyrone said. “It’s not so much the classes I’m taking being rigorous, but I’m having to work more.”
Tyrone is paying for his courses this fall using a combination of Pell funds ($1,500) and the last of his scholarship from Take Stock in Children, a non-profit organization in Florida that provides a unique opportunity for deserving low-income youth/students, many from minority families, to escape the cycle of poverty through education.
Each student who successfully fulfills the requirements of Take Stock in Children receives a fully-paid college tuition scholarship. Some scholarships — like Tyrone’s — cover 60 credit hours, while other Take Stock affiliate programs offer scholarships that cover 120 credit hours.
To cover the rest of the cost of going to school this semester, Tyrone has also been working about 30 hours a week at McDonald’s.
“I’ve worked there before, but I’ve picked up more hours this semester because I needed to,” Tyrone said. “It’s costing me a little bit of my focus with school, which is where it normally would be. I didn’t get to take all the classes I wanted, but I’m just happy the FAFSA went through.”
For Tyrone, going to college wasn’t exactly culmination of a lifelong dream.
“I was wishy-washy when it came to determining what I wanted to do,” Tyrone said. “I don’t mind working outdoors, so I always thought, ‘Maybe college isn’t for everybody.’ I still liked the idea of getting an education and learning new things.”
He didn’t seriously start thinking about college until his sophomore year in high school, when he became interested in a career as a mental health counselor.
“It clicked for me around 10th grade,” Tyrone said of discovering his chosen field of study. “I also figured out that it would require me to go to college.”
Easier said than done, especially since Tyrone and his older sister didn’t have a readily available guide through the college application and financial aid process in their household.
“Coming from a single parent home where my mom didn’t go to college, it came down to her saying, ‘I don’t know how you’re going to pay, so you’d better apply for some scholarships,’” said Tyrone, who initially felt overwhelmed by the number of options available to him. “That’s a key problem…there are a lot of students that don’t even know the first step.
“How do I find where scholarships are located? Where do I send the applications to? What’s a FAFSA? I don’t even know what that is.”
Fortunately for Tyrone, he was introduced to Take Stock in Children, which paired him with a mentor who helped focus his college and career planning. Every Take Stock in Children student is also assigned a college success coach to assist them throughout their time in the program.
Tyrone has eagerly paid forward the help he received during the college application process.
In addition to his class load at Pasco Hernando State and his weekly workload at McDonald’s, Tyrone works as a program assistant for the college’s College Reach Out Program (CROP), a state-sponsored educational program that aims to increase the number of low-income students in grades 6-12 who are admitted to and successfully complete postsecondary education. He also serves as a Take Stock mentor himself and interns as a guidance counselor at Springstead High School in Spring Hill.
“You have to get that extra guidance when you’re thinking about going to college because when you talk about finances, a lot of people begin to drift away,” he said. “Or they start thinking, ‘College isn’t for me…I’m not going to get into debt for it.’”
Brenda Ilojiole’s experience working in financial aid couldn’t help her navigate FAFSA verification
Melissa Shank is paying her financial aid experience forward
Pell Grant was a lifesaver for Jeremiah Espersen during first year at Trinity Baptist College