COVER STORY SIDEBAR: Financial aid for returning students
Callan's parents, Ron Space '81 and Ivy Rumsey Space '82, are dairy farmers. Their business, Millbrook Farms in Groton, N.Y., is usually stable, but "in the past five years or so, since we've had kids in college, it's really fluctuated," Ivy Space said. A statewide milk market crash in 2006 drove prices lower than the cost of production, and hundreds of dairy farms went out of business.
"This past year the market has been very good," Callan said. "Cornell may see that as a huge increase [in income], but as a family-owned business, it all goes back into the business; we're building a new barn. You would think that your financial aid would balance that out."
Ivy Space said farm income is different from most business income.
"In farming, you carry a substantial debt load," she said. "When you pay back principal on a loan, it shows as income [on tax returns]. It's equity, but it isn't cash. It was a good milk price last year, but we were making up for the previous year."
Aid was not a major deciding factor in choosing Cornell, Ivy Space said, "because Callan, especially, really wanted to go there. I think we really got treated very fairly by financial aid."
This year, the Space family income was over Cornell's cap of $120,000, but Callan was eligible for some aid from previous sources. She said her initial bursar bill showed "absolutely no financial aid on it" -- not an unusual occurrence for many students this year, whose bills were mailed prior to their financial aid reviews.
Relying on resources
Texas student Ambriz arrived at Cornell early for the Prefreshman Summer Program in 2007, giving her an advantage in finding additional aid. "I was able to talk to the bursar and admissions," she said. "I was able to find every nook and cranny of the services Cornell had to offer. I even went to career services and a career counselor. Every question I had was answered."
She financed her first year with a combination of grants, loans, outside scholarships and income from three jobs, two on campus and one in Collegetown, but no work study -- the Office of Minority Educational Affairs helped her find work at Olin Library.
"After the first semester, I wasn't enrolled for a few weeks because I couldn't afford to pay the bursar," she said. "I kept going back to financial aid and they were able to get me some loans. I am afraid I will have to go through that every semester in order to go here. It hasn't exactly been easy. I'm always trying to make ends meet, especially for books. My mother is a very thrifty person; she taught me well."
To get to Cornell, Ambriz said her high school teachers guided her, stressing extracurricular activities such as Future Farmers of America and music -- interests she has maintained at Cornell. She toured China with the University Chorus last March.
"I didn't know I could go to college. I didn't know the resources. I told my parents, 'I'm going to go to an Ivy League school.' They said, 'We can't afford it!'"
Her experience has also given her purpose.
"I want to help inner-city youths find a way into college," she said. "I think a lot of immigrant parents don't stress the importance of an education because they work so hard to make ends meet that they think higher education will put even more of a strain on their daily financial struggles. So, getting to college is just a matter of people knowing their resources.
"Cornell is a great institution in that it allows you to explore a lot of options," she said. "I've had a lot of support here from my instructors. There are a lot of resources here to help keep me afloat, and it hasn't been too stressful other than worrying about whether I'll be able to pay for it or not."