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Bus Tour Steers Latinos Toward College

September 09, 2004|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

Belmont High School senior Andres Ruiz wants to go to college, but he says his immigrant parents don't know anything about applying for financial aid and his college counselor is often too busy to answer questions.

"We don't get much support," said Ruiz, 17. "At this school, it's really tough because it is so over-populated."

A nationwide bus tour kicked off Wednesday at Ruiz's school near downtown Los Angeles to help students like him find college loans and scholarships. Sponsored by the Sallie Mae Fund, a nonprofit organization that aims to increase access to college, the tour will stop in 22 cities across the country during the next three months. Along the way, it will make available bilingual financial aid experts in more than 125 workshops geared toward helping Latino students and their families.

The Sallie Mae Fund is sponsored by Sallie Mae Corp., an education and mortgage lender. Susan Corsini, vice chairwoman of the fund, said "far too many parents and students are not aware of financial aid that is available to them."

The bus tour was inspired by results from a recent study commissioned by the fund and conducted by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at USC. It found that more than half of Latino parents and 43% of young Latino adults are not aware of a single source of financial aid. It also found that three out of four young adults not enrolled in college would have been more likely to attend if they had better information about financial aid.

The report was based on a telephone survey of 1,200 Latino parents, as well as of 1,200 Latino adults ages 18 to 24.

A colorful bus painted with students studying and throwing graduation caps in the air rolled into the Belmont High parking lot on Wednesday. The school band played and education leaders addressed about 200 students in the audience. The organization scheduled a financial aid workshop at Belmont that evening.

Los Angeles Board of Education President Jose Huizar said that school crowding, poverty and immigration status can hinder students' access to college.

But he added: "We know if we give our students the resources and information they need to succeed, they will."

Ruiz, who is just beginning to decide which colleges to apply to, said he wants to find out more about the financial aid process by attending some of the workshops. The tour was a good idea, he added, because it "informs Latino students that there is help out there, and we should not get our hopes down."

Today the bus will be at Belmont High again. Later this month, it will travel to schools in San Diego, Oxnard and Palmdale.

Details on the tour dates, locations and workshops are available at www.thesalliemaefund.org.

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