Illinois Eastern Community Colleges Chancellor Dr. Ryan Gower is encouraging prospective students to apply to Frontier Community College, Lincoln Trail College, Olney Central College or Wabash Valley College before Oct. 30. Students that apply before the priority deadline will be first in line for scholarships offered by each of the four colleges.

“I believe everyone is aware of the excellent educational opportunities that IECC provides,” says Gower. “One of the things I don’t think many students fully understand is how financially smart it is to start or finish your educational career at one of our four colleges.”

Gower says there’s a consumer debt crisis in the United States right now and aside from mortgages, student loan debt is the largest form of debt carried by Americans today. “I have seen so many young people put an anchor on their future and burden themselves with up to six figures of student loan debt. When you look at one of the biggest drivers of student debt it’s not the tuition; it’s actually the student housing and living expenses that are incurred when you leave home to go to college. There is a smarter way forward through IECC.”

Community colleges like FCC, LTC, OCC and WVC offer students the chance to stay close to home to receive their education and avoid higher tuition and costs of university housing and meals.

Gower says he wants students to have all of the facts as they make a college decision and that’s why he’s urging them to submit their free application before Oct. 30. Students that fill out the application and finish their FAFSA should have an estimated cost of attendance for IECC before the holidays. “We want students to have a realistic snapshot of what it is going to cost them to attend one of the four Illinois Eastern Community Colleges as compared to a four-year university. Many of our students find that after PELL, SEOG and MAP assistance, they end up paying very little and the financial support for others actually exceeds their tuition charges. Imagine getting paid to go to college instead of the other way around!”

Gower says the tuition at IECC is a fraction of the cost of other state colleges and universities. For example, the annual tuition at IECC is about a third of the cost of the annual tuition at SIU-Edwardsville and SIU-Carbondale while it is 27 percent of the annual tuition rates at Eastern Illinois and the University of Illinois. “Attending FCC, LTC, OCC or WVC is a financially smart decision.”

IECC is also going to help students fill out the FAFSA through a series of virtual FAFSA Night events in October. The virtual events will take place on Oct. 8, 15, 22 and 29 from 5-7 p.m. on each of those nights.

“We are going to do virtual FAFSA Nights through Zoom,” says IECC Director of Financial Aid Andrea Puckett. “We’ll have a big group meeting, but we’ll also have breakout rooms set up for students to go in and receive private one-on-one assistance. There will be a share screen option available so we can look at what the students are doing and what question the students are working on and we can assist them that way.”

Puckett says filling out the FAFSA doesn’t have to be intimidating, especially since IECC’s Financial Aid professionals can give students a helping hand. She says it only takes about 20-25 minutes to fill out the form online.

She says it is very important for people to fill out the FAFSA each year they are in college. “The FAFSA is really the basis for all of the aid you receive when you go to college. There is aid that is based on income, but institutions also use it to award institutional aid. You could be eligible for something that you might not be with the federal and state governments. It’s a very important tool for students to use.”

Puckett recommends that students create an FSA ID before attending the FAFSA Night of their choice. When creating an FSA ID, students will need their Social Security Number and an email address they have access to. During the event, Puckett says you’ll want to have your driver’s license, federal tax information to include 2019 tax returns and W-2 information, records of untaxed income and banking and investment information.

There is an extra incentive for students to participate with FAFSA Night this year. Puckett says IECC has partnered with TrustBank for a prize drawing. Each of the four colleges in the District will give away a cash bouquet donated by TrustBank. Students will be entered into the drawing when they register for and attend a virtual FAFSA Night, send their FAFSA information to IECC and complete an application for admission.

Students can register for the virtual FAFSA Night event by visiting www.iecc.edu/fafsa and they can apply for admission at www.iecc.edu/apply