For College senior and Latino Coalition member Jeffrey Then, navigating through the college admissions process in high school was not a straightforward affair.
Like other applicants to Penn, Then had to worry about his essays, transcripts and teacher recommendations. But he also ran into a barrier that most students never encountered — translating financial aid materials for his Spanish-speaking parents.
Over the past few months, the Latino Coalition has been working to make sure that future applicants like Then have the resources available to overcome language barriers when applying for financial aid.
In 2009, Penn began publishing a Spanish version of its financial aid brochure. Through a continued partnership with the Latino Coalition, Student Financial Services is now planning on releasing a revised version of that document in the near future.
“It’s critical that we extend our financial message to as many prospective students as we can,” SFS spokeswoman Marlene Bruno said. “Getting rid of language barriers is one way for us to do that.”
Bruno hopes that the new Spanish translation of the University’s financial aid brochure — called “Just the Facts: You Can Afford Penn” — will be available later this year. She added that SFS is also looking to translate parts of its website into Spanish.
College freshman and Latino Coalition Chair of Admissions and Recruitment Luis Vargas said that these efforts are intended to “ease the worry and stress and put students in the best position possible to succeed.”
Students with parents who speak little or no English “are applying for financial aid as dependent students, but at the same time have to be very independent in the process,” Vargas said.
Then, who served in Vargas’ position on the Latino Coalition board last year, added that applying for financial aid can be a “high stakes setting” for families of lower socioeconomic backgrounds. For Then, that is why the Latino Coalition’s efforts have been so vital as a way to reduce barriers in the process.
“Any financial aid that you don’t get is going to fall on your family to make up,” he said. “We’re helping to make sure that those families aren’t in the dark all the time.”
But the Latino Coalition’s work has not been limited strictly to translating financial aid materials for Spanish-speaking families. Over the past three years, the group has also worked with SFS on various financial aid workshops and presentations — which have given students the opportunity to ask questions on how to properly fill out their forms.
SFS Director of Financial Counseling Services Val Sandillo said these annual workshops — which are hosted by SFS employees — aim to “alleviate some of the anxiety for students and parents.”
Since the Latino Coalition began reaching out to newly-admitted students last year, many of the strategies learned in the SFS workshops have been passed on directly to applicants, Vargas added.
Though SFS has focused primarily on native Spanish speakers, College senior and Community School Student Partnerships site coordinator for University City High School Siler Bryan said there are “definitely” other language barriers to consider.
Through his work with CSSP, Bryan has come to know students who are natives of areas like the Middle East and Africa. For these students, Bryan said that completing a financial aid form can cause “double the difficulties of a normal applicant.”
For Graduate School of Education professor Laura Perna, greater reforms to the financial aid process in general are “definitely needed” to help reduce the complexity. While Perna acknowledged Penn’s “impressive role” in bringing more minority students to campus, she said that the efforts cannot stop now.
“We need continued attention in order to maximize the full scope of Penn’s already-impressive resources,” she said. “It’s vital that [those efforts] continue.”Comments powered by Disqus
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