The SEOG Program: A Vitally Important Part of Jesuit Student Aid Packages

Scott S. Fleming, Associate Vice President for Federal Relations, Georgetown University

In 1972, the Higher Education Act (HEA) Reauthorization established two important financial aid programs that have created opportunities for millions of American students over the last 43 years: Pell Grants and Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG). SEOG, one of the campus-based aid programs, has been a vital complement to Pell in enabling institutions to put together financial aid packages for students with the highest demonstrated need. And, as is true with other campus-based aid programs, this Federal funding is matched with at least 25% in institutional funds. At many Jesuit institutions, the institutional match is considerably in excess of the requirement.

During the 2013-14 academic year, over three hundred Georgetown University undergraduate students received SEOG funding in their financial aid packages with awards totaling $1,738,673. All of those students benefiting from SEOG on our campus are Pell Grant recipients as well. Among all 28 Jesuit colleges and universities across the nation, nearly 13,000 students received SEOG funding that year, totaling nearly $20 million. Nationally, about $735,000,000 in Federal funding, amplified by at least $230 million in institutional matching funds, were included in financial aid packages for over 1.2 million students on over 3,700 campuses.

There is considerable discussion on Capitol Hill today, as work is underway on another HEA Reauthorization, on making financial aid “simpler.” That includes simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to remove barriers to students applying for aid. But another aspect of the “simplification” effort would revamp Federal student aid programs to end up with just “one loan, one grant.”

Simplification might sound good, but to get to “one loan, one grant,” SEOG and Perkins Loans, another campus-based aid program, would be eliminated. These particular programs and the flexibility they provide financial aid offices are essential to addressing the kinds of real life circumstances – family job loss, illness or death of a parent or sibling – that, without a little extra help, can destroy a young person’s educational aspirations. At the end of the day, for those nearly 13,000 students on Jesuit campuses across the country, “one loan, one grant” would mean less Federal grant aid, for some as much as $4,000 a year.

But enough statistics. I look at programs like SEOG from the perspective of real students whose lives are changed by financial aid. Young people, over 300 here at Georgetown in 2013-14, whose ability to be students here is made possible, in part, because of SEOG. Let me share just two of their stories with you.

Diondra Hicks (left) graduated from Georgetown this past May with a degree in psychology and a GPA over 3.5. Diondragrew up in Georgia, raised by a hard-working, caring single mother. There were financial ups and downs along the way. Her mother lost her job as the economy went into recession, and it was a full two years before she was hired to be a high school business technology teacher in the Atlanta Public Schools. Family fortunes meant the family moved frequently, and Diondra moved from school to school. That wasn’t easy, but Diondragraduated fifth in her class from North Atlanta High School with an International Baccalaureate degree.

Diondra knew she wanted to go to college, and she was lucky to have two former high school counselors who helped her on college applications. Since her mother’s income left little to contribute to her college costs, Diondra's counselors encouraged her to apply to Georgetown and other schools with strong financial aid policies. She was admitted to Georgetown’s College of Arts and Sciences with an aid package that included SEOG as well as Pell, a generous Georgetown Scholarship, and a Federal Work Study job. She is a serious person who works hard. She held the same Work Study job all four years at Georgetown while being actively involved in the Black Student Alliance and serving as a mentor to students at a high school near the Georgetown campus.

Since graduation, Diondra is gaining new experience with a law firm in Washington, DC and keeping her eye on a career that will let her effectively advocate for children and families in high need, at-risk communities.

While Diondra has moved on to pursue her dreams, Jason Low (right) is starting his sophomore year here at Georgetown. Jason’s parents immigrated to Richmond, California from China in 1995. A few years later, when Jason was only five, his father passed away, leaving Jason’s mother who works very hard, but does not speak English, to raise her only child. His father’s death and his mother’s lack of English skills forced Jason to grow up very fast and to help his mother navigate life in the United States. His ability to speak English was critical. At one point, his mother received a letter summoning her to jury duty. She first thought it was a summons to be put on trial, but Jason was able to clear that up and convince the court that his mother, who couldn’t speak English, could not serve effectively on a jury.

It didn’t take long for Jason to grasp the importance of education, and he was determined to make school a place where he truly belonged. In elementary school, he volunteered in the school office, and later came back to do so while in middle school and high school. To ensure his future academic success, Jason joined an after-school program that offered tutoring, study skills and encouragement to plan for college. All of that work and commitment paid off and on the Georgetown campus, Jason is already giving back, working as a financial aid peer counselor and a Georgetown Scholarship Program Board Member helping students acclimate and succeed on our campus. He is also working to connect students of diverse backgrounds through the Students of Color Alliance. This summer, with University support, he interned for the Information Security Oversight Office working on the largest information management and security reform in over 20 years, and next spring, he will study abroad in Lyon, France. Like Diondra, his college dream relies on extensive financial aid including SEOG.

For young people across the country, like Diondra and Jason, we need to work to ensure that Federal financial aid programs like SEOG are not eliminated, so that their educational options are not limited by family circumstance or derailed by a family tragedy. These programs make an investment in their futures and what that can mean for us all.

Above: Photos of Diondra Hicks and Jason Low courtesy of Georgetown University.