News: College Access & Success

"It Does Take a Village"

Wednesday, June 20, 2018  
Posted by: Lindsay Broderick, Staff Writer
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For students underrepresented in higher education, every dollar counts when piecing together a financial aid package. And their ability to obtain those dollars and succeed in college depends on policymakers establishing a Streamlined FAFSA and approving increased, sustainable funding for need-based aid like Pell Grants and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants as well as programs like Federal Work-Study, AmeriCorps, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Alexiea Feaster knew from the moment she entered high school that she would attend college, despite coming from a low-income background in Chicago.

"College was always on my mind,” she told NCAN. “I said, 'I'm gonna work my way out of Englewood, I'm gonna go to college, I'm gonna become a doctor, and then I'm gonna come back to Englewood to serve the community that helped raise me.’ Because it does take a village, and I think my community has been a big part of me growing."

Above: Alexiea receives a $10,000 Scholly Summit Scholarship from musician Chance The Rapper, Scholly Founder and CEO Christopher Gray, and actor Jesse Williams. 

After years of hard work and dedication, Alexiea is making strides toward achieving her academic and professional goals. In the fall she will attend Xavier University in New Orleans, as a biology major on a pre-med track. Alexiea knew financial aid would be essential to her access to a postsecondary education. But as a first-generation college student, Alexiea could not look to her parents for experienced assistance or advice on the financial aid process.

Through NCAN member OneGoal, a Chicago-based nonprofit, Alexiea was matched with program director Danielle Watkins, who assists students one-on-one by explaining the college application process and answering any questions students have along the way. Danielle helped Alexiea develop a financial four-year plan to follow while she is in college, showed her scholarships to apply for, and helped her complete and understand the FAFSA and ultimately receive a Pell Grant.

"It's a really big help to know someone's invested in my future,” Alexiea said. “They drive me to do better and, financially, they drive me to fill out more applications for scholarships."

With help from Danielle and other mentors and teachers, Alexiea also became a Dell Scholar and received the Comcast Leaders and Doers Scholarship, a $10,000 award from the Scholly Scholarship Summit (she's pictured at left receiving her award), and an academic scholarship from Xavier. Additionally, as the time for FAFSA completion rolled around, for every question Alexiea had, Danielle was there to help.

Like hundreds of thousands of Pell-eligible students each year, Alexiea was selected for verification, a potentially catastrophic barrier to FAFSA filing. But in Alexiea's case, she took the initiative to bring her questions regarding verification to Danielle, who helped her dig up and send the additional requested information to the schools where she had applied.

Through the help of OneGoal, her support network and her own hard work and determination, Alexiea is on track to attend Xavier in Louisiana with a large majority of her expenses covered.

"Start early with scholarships – especially if you know your family can't afford college,” is Alexiea’s advice to others facing the circumstances she did. “Even with scholarships that you may not meet all the requirements for, still apply because you're putting yourself in the running. It's better for you to apply and have a chance at winning, rather than sitting on the sidelines and seeing what could've been."

"Always do your best,” she continued. “Make sure that you know exactly what you're talking about – and if you don't, go ask for help."