No offense, Bowie State University.
But Laurel High School graduate Brenda Oduola said she wasn’t about to settle for going there when it seemed she was going to lose all of the financial aid that would allow her to start at Towson University in the fall.
“I didn’t do all this work to go to [Prince George’s Community College] or Bowie State,” said Oduola, 18, of Bowie. Neither school offered the program she wanted to study.
When a sudden jump in her mother’s income from a new, home-based business made her ineligible for need-based financial aid, Oduola turned to First Generation College Bound. The Laurel-based nonprofit helps high school students navigate the college admissions and financial aid process. Oduola and 50 other high school graduates in FGCB were honored at a Wednesday ceremony in College Park.
Although she was accepted, her first and second choices — Syracuse University and Pennsylvania State University — were out of her reach, Oduola said. Out-of-state tuition — $37,601 at Syracuse and $27,206 at Penn State — would have been too costly.
Oduola turned to Raymond Harrod, program director for the nonprofit, for help in deciding on an in-state school. He encouraged her to consider Towson, which offers the family and human services program she wants to study.
“I know I want to work with kids, and I think I want to be a pediatrician,” Oduola said, adding she also will take prerequisites for a biology degree. “But I don’t want to get stuck in the sciences if I change my mind.”
Oduola’s mother, Titi Lawal, a former nurse who recently started a nursing staffing agency from home, saw her income jump in the past year. The U.S. Department of Education adjusted the amount her family was expected to contribute to her education from $750 to $13,000 after she filed her taxes — an amount Lawal said was unmanageable for the family.
“When I said we should consider her going to Prince George’s [Community College], she just busted out crying,” Lawal said.
Harrod worked with Oduola and her mother to apply for scholarships, and Oduola has racked up five totaling about $7,000 from Towson and private scholarship sponsors.
“We still have a whole chunk of money to pay,” her mother said, adding the family would take out loans to bridge the gap to pay Towson’s $7,906 yearly tuition.
Oduola is one of 105 students in grades 10 through 12 that the nonprofit helped this year through its College Access Program, which operates at five high schools in Prince George’s County. Students at Laurel, Parkdale, Potomac, Central and Fairmont Heights high schools are assigned mentors on the school staff to keep up with their progress from 10th to 12th grades to ensure students are on track to graduate and meet admissions requirements.
The organization’s $300,000 budget is funded through donations and grants and employs five staff members. FGCB also stages monthly workshops to guide students and parents through the admissions and application process.
“We try to parallel where they should be in the process,” Harrod said. “So in the beginning, we talk about SATs, then about admissions, then applications.”
Since its founding in 1990, the nonprofit has helped 1,398 students become the first generation in their families to go to college, said Harrod of Clinton.
The biggest problem for families who never have been through the application process — as with Oduola’s family — is financial aid, Harrod said.
“A lot of them assume that just because they’ve been accepted, their way is paid,” Harrod said. “They don’t understand the system, that some schools don’t give a lot of need-based financial aid.”
Oduola said she always knew she was going to get to college, she just needed a little help getting there.
“Not going [to college] was not an option,” Oduola said. “God found a way.”