For many, financial aid makes a Catholic education possible

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PROVIDENCE–Marcel Odom and his brother McKinley had dreamed of attending La Salle Academy since they were in the fifth grade. Their three older sisters had gone to Classical High and had done very well there, but the boys were simply in awe of La Salle and its storied history of excellence.

When they were in grade school, the twin brothers had spent time shadowing La Salle students. They knew they wanted to attend La Salle, but they also knew their working-class parents would never be able to pay the tuition in order to send them there.

“We didn’t think we were going to come here. We didn’t think we were going to be able to afford it,” said McKinley Odom, who along with his brother is now a junior at La Salle.

“We all knew how much it cost,” added Marcel, of the approximately $25,000 a year in tuition it would cost for both boys to attend the school.

So it was even more surprising when the Odom family received a call one day when the twins were in eighth grade preparing for high school. It was Brother Michael McKennery, president of La Salle Academy. He was calling their parents to offer the twins full four-year scholarships to attend La Salle.

“This scholarship helps us so much,” Marcel said.

For Brother McKennery it was an investment that has paid great dividends. He is quite pleased with how the twins have excelled at La Salle.

“I must say they’re model students—these two young men,” Brother McKennery said of Marcel and McKinley.

Such scholarships, which at La Salle are funded solely through an annual scholarship dinner, represent one type of financial assistance available to students attending Catholic schools in the Diocese of Providence, where the average annual tuition for a Catholic elementary education is $4,600, while the average tuition for a Catholic secondary education is $10,000.

With quantified need for financial assistance skyrocketing due to the lagging economy and rising per-pupil cost of education, families are often struggling to meet the costs of a Catholic education for their children.

The total combined need in the Diocese of Providence for all families who applied for aid to send their children to Catholic schools is more than $16 million this year, according to the Catholic Schools Office. Given its resources, however, the diocese is only able to assist families in meeting about 10 percent of that need.

This year, the diocese has awarded more than $1.5 million through endowments, contributions and parish assistance to assist families in making a Catholic school education more affordable for their children.

“More than 1,900 financial assistance awards were made on behalf of students enrolled in 44 Catholic elementary and secondary schools throughout the State of Rhode Island,” said Edward Bastia, business administrator for the Catholic School Office.

Financial assistance programs such as the diocese’s Anchor of Hope Fund–which is donation based and raises funds through the generosity of individuals and corporations–financial aid is based solely upon demonstrated economic need.

The Catholic Schools Office uses the FACTS Management service to determine the financial need of families who apply for diocesan assistance.

After pre-registering their children at one of the diocese’s Catholic schools, parents seeking assistance are then required to complete an application and submit the required financial documentation directly to FACTS Management.

Parents can file requests for financial aid electronically by logging in to the Facts Web site: www.factstuitionaid.com. This is the easiest way to submit an application, although schools also have paper applications available for parents who prefer to submit their applications manually. Applications for the 2011-2012 scholastic year are currently being submitted.

FACTS ranks families according to their demonstrated levels of need, and in the spring, the Catholic Schools Office begins to assign aid starting at the top of the list with families who reflect the greatest amount of need.

“Our awards range in value from $500 at the elementary level up to $6,000 at the high school level,” Bastia said.

“Obviously, major awards are very limited in number and usually go to those families with the greatest amount of demonstrated financial need. Therefore, it behooves families to submit their applications early in order to be considered for larger awards.”

Most financial aid awards come from the Frances Warde Fund, which is targeted to assist families who have students enrolled in Catholic elementary schools, grades K-8. The fund is replenished each year from deposits made by pastors and parishes around the diocese.

“Through the generosity of local parishes, over 1,100 students received financial assistance awards totaling $700,000 during this scholastic year,” Bastia said.

Every Catholic elementary school receives awards from the Frances Warde Fund for certain students who have demonstrated need.

Individual awards of $600 are usually granted. Siblings of the same family are each eligible to be considered for an award from this fund.

For secondary students, the generosity of parishioners around the diocese has enabled more than 300 Catholic high school students to receive awards from the annual Catholic Charity Fund Appeal, which has a component that is specifically targeted to assist students enrolled in grades 9-12.

Individual awards generally total around $900 each, and siblings from the same family are each eligible to be considered for a Catholic Charity Fund award.

“Every Catholic high school in the Diocese of Providence has many students enrolled who are receiving the benefit of these awards thanks to the generosity of our local parishioners and pastors,” Bastia said.

At La Salle, Brother McKennery said 900 grants have been awarded to families this year.

To make a donation or sponsor a student, or to learn about establishing an endowment program for Catholic education, please contact the Diocesan Office of Stewardship and Development at 401.277.2121. For all additional information, please contact your local Catholic school.