Financial aid, including scholarships, grants, work-study and loans, are resources most college students utilize, and New Mexico State University has a new program to help students maintain their financial resources as they work toward graduation.
Claire Cortner Montoya joined NMSU as the financial aid outreach adviser in spring 2014. She works with both incoming and current NMSU students who need help maneuvering through the financial aid requirements.
The NMSU Board of Regents funded the new resource for students, and according to NMSU Financial Aid Director Janie Merchant, a new position has been considered for quite sometime to assist in student retention and graduation.
“This is part of a project to provide cross-campus advising, tutoring and financial aid interaction for students,” Merchant said. “I believe it is helpful for students to have an outreach person that will work with them by advising them regarding options and resources available. It’s important to have someone to mentor incoming students and to reach out to students that may be at risk academically. The focus is on helping students achieve their educational goals.”
Each NMSU student has an individual financial aid adviser, but Cortner Montoya’s role is to focus on retention and graduate through aggressive intervention.
One of the initial areas of concentration for Cortner Montoya was students who had appealed for financial aid. Federal regulations require all students on financial aid meet satisfactory academic progress to retain eligibility for financial aid.
Undergraduate students are required to maintain a 2.0 cumulative grade point average, sustain a completion rate of 70 percent and complete a program of study in a reasonable time frame, which is not to exceed 150 percent of given credit hours without earning a degree. For students that do not fulfill the requirements, they can appeal for financial aid.
“Students typically know they have to keep their GPA up,” she said. “I’ve worked with some students that have a 3.0 or higher but they’re at a 50 percent completion rate. It’s not that they were receiving Fs, they were receiving Ws, because they are not realizing that withdrawing from those classes can actually impact their financial aid eligibility.”
Cortner Montoya estimated that she worked closely with about 250 students that appealed for financial aid and a majority of those students have shown progression since the previous semester. In the fall semester for students on satisfactory academic progress, NMSU is implementing an academic plan that includes tutoring services and student success workshops.
“Every student that I’ve encountered seems to be thankful that they have found someone in my position,” Cortner Montoya said. “For every student that I interact with from our initial meeting, I will continue to provide support throughout the semester and follow up with each student to see if there is any additional assistance that I can provide.”
In addition to working with current NMSU students, Cortner Montoya has attended new student registration events and presented financial aid information to incoming students and their families.
“It will be nice to start out with this group of freshmen just coming in so I can monitor them throughout their college experience and they know right out of the gate that I’m here as a resource,” she said. “In the fall, I’m going to be giving the UNIV 150 classes a financial aid presentation, specifically focusing on loans and ways students can avoid extreme loan debt.”
Cortner Montoya said an important group of students she will focus on in the fall are freshmen that are in the qualifying semester for the New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship.
Currently to receive the lottery scholarship, incoming students must be New Mexico residents who recently earned a GED or a diploma from a New Mexico high school and are seeking a bachelor’s or associate degree. Students must have completed at least 15 new graded credit hours by the end of the first semester (the qualifying semester) and earned a minimum grade point average of 2.5 in the first semester.
Cortner Montoya said she knows students can be intimidated by financial aid but she hopes to help change the perception.
“I’ve tried to break that barrier down and help students realize it’s not impossible to come to college,” Cortner Montoya said. “It’s a matter of taking the little steps to get things done.”
As a New Mexico native and Aggie alumna, Cortner Montoya said she was inspired to help students by growing up in smaller, low-income communities.
“There are a lot of people, even from my high school, that I know could have come to college and done really well for themselves but they didn’t have the assistance needed to succeed. My motivation is to provide that necessary assistance for current and future students,” she said. “I want to help students that I know can succeed but do not realize what resources are available to help them.”
Information from NMSU