Several hundred high schoolers gathered around Southern University’s Smith-Brown Memorial Union on Wednesday afternoon. A DJ played. Girls danced in sync. The Human Jukebox, Southern University’s famed marching band, even made an appearance.
The pep rally had a dual purpose: cap a day of learning about financial aid and money management, and to try to lure students into attending Southern University in the fall.
“We’re trying to teach kids something, without them necessarily knowing that we are teaching them something,” joked Sujuan Boutté, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance.
The event was the latest in LOSFA’s Fly Tour — events geared toward providing guidance and encouraging low-income high schoolers to attend college.
The goal is to mix humorous skits, poetry and song to teach students about credit card debt, student loans and the importance of filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is necessary for federal grant programs, as well as Louisiana’s generous Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, which helps cover tuition costs for students who meet certain academic benchmarks and attend Louisiana colleges or universities.
“I think a lot of students don’t necessarily know much about financial aid,” said Michelle Anderson, an admissions recruiter from Southern University. “We’re giving them the tools and the information.”
For Southern University, which has seen a slumping enrollment but also has a high percentage of students who qualify for financial aid, the program seemed a perfect fit.
The university has faced significant financial struggles in recent years — annually pulling from reserves. With the threat of deeper cuts to state funding for higher education, colleges are looking for other ways to generate more revenue without putting too much burden on students through tuition hikes. Increasing enrollment is one of the key tactics that has been eyed to do so.
“Hundreds of high school seniors have chosen to come to our campus and allow us to tell our story in encouraging them to come to Southern University,” said Southern University Vice Chancellor Verjanis Peoples. “It is our goal at Southern University to increase the number of college graduates in the coming years in an effort to increase the number of educated individuals who can contribute to the workforce as leaders with knowledge-based education.”
During the program, a man in a bright yellow Southern University shirt and electric blue pants called out from the stage, urging the group to tweet about the day, using Southern University-centric hashtags, and to check out Southern on YouTube and Instagram.
In one skit, a parent expressed concern over a daughter’s ACT score not being higher, and the difference it could make in financial aid.
In another skit, a young woman’s boyfriend learned about the dangers of loan debt.
In Louisiana, nearly half of the college class of 2012 — the most recent statistics available — graduated owing something. The average debt load was about $22,789, according to the Project on Student Debt, and an estimated 1 in 10 Louisiana graduates defaulted on their federal student loan payments within two years of entering the repayment period, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
“Money management is a key to being successful throughout your college career and beyond,” Anderson said.
Ty Smith, a senior at East Feliciana High School, said he hasn’t decided where to go to college yet, but he found Wednesday’s event helpful.
“It was also fun,” he said, noting that information about filling out the FAFSA was most crucial.
Drenisha Muse, another senior at East Feliciana, said she also found the event helpful, particularly information about the FAFSA.
“What I was doing was the total opposite,” said Muse, who plans to attend Alcorn State University in Mississippi.