West Virginia University students are benefiting from an increase in the amount of federal, state and institutional dollars available at the University to help defray the costs of higher education.

During the 2006-07 academic year, 18,047 students at WVU ’s main campus and Potomac State College of WVU were awarded more than $270 million in grants, scholarships and loansan increase of more than 10 percent from the previous year. During the 2005-06 academic year, more than $244 million was distributed to 17,181 students.

Expanding access to higher education benefits all of us, WVU President Mike Garrison said.It helps individuals and makes lasting positive changes in families. The entire state benefits from having a better educated population; its truly the best investment we can make in our future.

We are experiencing a rise in the number of options available for students to help remove the financial barriers of a college education,said Kaye Widney, director of financial aid and scholarships at WVU .The increase weve experienced in student aid dollars illustrates that more students are learning about, qualifying for and taking advantage of these programs.

The WVU Financial Aid and Scholars Office processed more than $160 million in federal aid during the 2006-07 academic yearaccounting for 60 percent of the total student assistance utilized at the University.

Programs such as the federal Pell Grant, Perkins and direct loan packages accounted for the majority of federal dollars available for students. However, several new federal programs, including the Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG), National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant (SMART) and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) have brought additional dollars into the system.

WVU students have faired very well with these new federal programsmeeting the rigorous eligibility standards,Widney said.Of the 2,065 college students in West Virginia who received the ACG , almost half are attending WVU , and more than half of the 474 students in the state who earned a SMART grant are here.

State loans, grants and scholarships, including the PROMISE Scholarship, provided $27 million in financial assistance for studentsan increase of almost 13 percent from the previous year. WVU currently has 4,511 PROMISE Scholarship recipients enrolled.

And institutional resources in the form of tuition waivers, academic scholarships, athletic grants and student employment accounted for almost $50 million in financial assistance for students.

Were seeing a couple of trends when it comes to student assistance,Widney said.The increased academic profile of our students has brought additional scholarship and grant dollars from the government and private scholarship sources. The number of incoming freshmen who qualify for the various WVU scholarships has increased as well. There are also more students using loans to help with the costs associated with higher education.

With the increase in dollars being utilized comes an increase in the support the WVU Financial Aid and Scholars Office provides to students considering aid programs.

The overall goal of the department is to help our students identify and obtain funding to help pay for their education,Widney said.Our financial aid counselors monitor individualseducational expenses and changes in income with the goal of keeping studentsborrowing as low as possible while ensuring they can cover living and college expenses.

WVU programs such as the award-winning debt management program and recently launchedWallet Watchseminars educate students about financial issues including budgeting, credit management, loan consolidation, insurance and investingall with the goal of helping them better understand their options and responsibilities when taking on college-related debt.

WVU also organizes an annual Financial Aid Awareness Week during the beginning of the spring semester and participates in outreach programs on campus and at local high schools to distribute information and explain the processes and options for funding a college education.

With so many options, Widney said its important to determine exactly how much aid is needed.

Students who establish a budget and understand where their dollars are going may find that they can borrow less,she added.Its a fine line between ensuring you have the funds you need and utilizing loans, and thats what its all about for our departmentmaking education affordable and minimizing debt.

For more information about financial aid programs available through WVU , visithttp://www.finaid.wvu.edu/.