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Set Your Sights on Higher Education

Don't let finances block the way for you, your children or your grandchildren

AARP empowers you to pursue your goals and dreams - Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep

Mine the Resources

Don't be frightened by what you read about the skyrocketing price of college tuition, says Santiago.

"Although some students pay full freight," she says, "many don't." Financial aid, especially for families of modest means, is often available through employers, schools and the government.

Saida Luciano-Ross's associate degree was funded by a grant from her previous employer, an aerospace company, part of a severance package when she was laid off in 2007 from her job in quality assurance. A federal Pell Grant helped finance her bachelor's degree. Veronica's BS was funded in part by a $20,000-a-year need-based scholarship from her university. Roberto also received a $3,000-a-year federal Pell Grant.

"Especially with my mother and brother in school at the same time, money was a big issue for us," says Veronica. "The scholarship allowed me to pursue my degree without too much financial stress on the family."

The paperwork to apply for scholarships and loans may be daunting, and competition may be stiff. But awards can range from a low-interest loan paying for a portion of the tuition to a full ride that includes room and board.

Most large companies offer some kind of tuition assistance. Some programs require coursework to be relevant to a student's current job or employer; others don't have that restriction. Or classes may fit under a professional development plan.

If you work for a university or college, the education perk is probably even better. Many will cover nearly all tuition at the institution for employees and dependent children. Luciano-Ross landed a new job as evaluation and matriculation coordinator at Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut, her recent alma mater. She loves her work, and plans to continue working while earning her MBA, also at Post. As a full-time employee, 90 percent of her tuition is covered. Veronica is also attending Post and taking advantage of her mother's employer's generous employee tuition program; 95 percent of her tuition is covered.

For other private and government scholarships and loans, let the not-for-profit College Board, which offers an online search of nearly 2,500 sources of college funding, do the research for you. Find scholarships that are specifically for Latinos by going to the "Scholarship Search" link and under "Additional Information" clicking "Hispanic." Pell Grants now worth up to $5,500 a year for undergraduate students who have not yet earned a bachelor's or a professional degree are awarded based largely on financial need. And the U.S. Department of Education website offers a wider range of options.

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