Financial Aid and Scholarship Opportunities More Students Should Know About

Illustration of Hawkster on stage with a box full of money during graduation. Illustration by Jana Tourfa
Illustration by Jana Tourfa

College is a dream for many, but paying for it can be a nightmare. The cost of college has grown about 20 percent in the past 10 years, according to college tuition inflation data from the Manhattan Institute.

The pandemic did slow down the rapid increase in college costs, but experts say it’s likely temporary. The doom and gloom surrounding student loans have given formal education a bad rap. College debt is the most common form of debt among Americans, followed by credit card debt. According to Statista, the average debt per college student is $32,731.

While the Biden Administration’s student loan forgiveness program has technically been upheld, students shouldn’t bank on this, as legal appeals and lawsuits are still on the horizon. Most college students have defaulted to using student loans as their only means of paying for school.

Employer tuition reimbursement, grants, fellowships, and more are some ways to fund a college education and be left debt-free.

Employer tuition reimbursement is money allocated to employees within an organization for educational costs. It’s a win-win for employers and employees alike. Employers improve their staff’s skills and normally retain them after completing their education, which means huge savings when considering the cost of employee turnover. Employees benefit greatly by saving on tuition and/or other education-related expenses and making themselves more valuable to their current or future employers. Many stipulations come with this, though. Many employers require their employees to take job-related courses, maintain a certain grade point average, and sign a contract to stay with their company for a certain amount of time in return for funding employees’ education. Check with your employer’s HR department to review the specifics of your organization’s specific policy.

Grants are blocks of money given for educational expenses that do not have to be repaid. Federal Pell Grants are among the most common grants given to students with exceptional financial need who have not earned a degree. There are situations where returning to school for a teaching certificate can make a student eligible for a Pell Grant. The expected amount depends on how many credit hours a student takes, financial need, plans to attend one full academic year or less, and cost of attendance. At HFC, the maximum award for the 2023-2024 school year is $7,395. Students can apply for this grant on their FAFSA.

A popular state grant is the Michigan Reconnect program for students 25 or older. This allows residents of Michigan who have lived in the state for one year and do not have a degree to earn an associate degree and/or skills certificate. Governor Whitmer is encouraging Michigan lawmakers to lower the minimum age to 21. Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent certificate to be eligible. The state will pay for in-district students to attend community college, but out-of-district students will only receive the equivalent of in-district tuition. Dearborn and select Dearborn Heights residents are eligible for in-district tuition rates at Henry Ford College.

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is another way students can fund their education. This type of funding is on a first-come-first-serve basis because schools have a limited amount of funding they receive from the Federal government each year. Pell Grant recipients are the first to receive this grant, and students become eligible for the FSEOG based on their answers on the FAFSA. Expected amounts can range from $100-4,000 annually, depending on the institution. Henry Ford College students can get $800 per award.

The Perkins Grant is a Federally funded grant program that allocates money to states based on income, needs, and more. At HFC, students qualify if they have a 2.0 GPA, have an unmet need of $1,000 or more (determined by the Financial Aid Office), and are enrolled in a state-approved academic major. Brenda Hildreth at the Student Outreach and Support Services (SOS) can be reached at (313) 845-9629. On top of tuition, Perkins Grant funds can be used to pay for books, transportation costs, childcare, and other living expenses within reason.

Institutional grants are common among universities, most are based on financial need, and some are merit-based. Also, students in specific majors can make students eligible. Check with your financial aid office to see eligibility and requirements.

Private grants can come from corporations, foundations, and religious organizations. These are also normally based on financial need, but some can be merit-based.

Fellowships are funded, short-term opportunities that can last from a few weeks to a few years. They can be focused on professional, academic, and/or personal developments. They are sponsored by a specific association, institution, or government which sets the eligibility requirements. Fellowships can support independent or group research, the development of community-based organizations, training within a specific field, opportunities to explore a particular field of work, or graduate study. The benefits of participating in a fellowship are innumerable.

Opportunities to network, learn, and develop personally and professionally are just some reasons to consider a fellowship. Normally, universities will have entire departments and databases dedicated to fellowships, or contact your school’s financial aid office for more information.

Wayne State University fellow Sweta Raval says about applying for fellowships, “Make sure you know this is what you want to go into before you invest all this time just so it looks good on paper. My advice would be to take a break, go explore the career you want a fellowship in.” She suggests being mindful of personal responsibilities when considering accepting a fellowship because it’s encouraged and sometimes required to avoid outside employment simultaneously.

Federal Work-Study is subsidized aid through financial aid programs in return for on-campus employment. There are exceptions that include off-campus employment. Benefits include flexible scheduling, experience in a student’s field of study, and exposure to a field a student may not have considered. Also, there is less competition because applicants are only students, and it’s a convenient option logistically because most job opportunities are on-campus.

The Henry Ford II Honors Program offers students two types of scholarships: students already in their academic careers and incoming freshmen. The first-year student scholarship is called the Henry Ford II Honor Scholarship and SHONO scholarships are for students in their academic careers. These extend to in-district students, out-of-district students, and international students. Next year, $35,000 in scholarships and fellowships will be available to all HFC students for the following two years, thanks to a donation by the Mellon Grant. Study abroad, Michigan Transfer Agreement (MTA) classes, and humanities classes can be funded through this grant. Also, creative endeavors such as creating a podcast, a graphic novel, or even an album could be funded. Director of the Henry Ford II Honors Program, Dr. Adam Hazlett, describes the grant opportunities as “no risk money ways to do something creative and somewhat risky. It’s personal edification. Even if you fail, you learn a lesson.”

For information about joining the Honors Program, visit: The requirements to join the Honors Program are flexible within reason, and special circumstances are considered. So applying is encouraged even if you don’t meet all listed requirements on the Honors Program website.

The Michigan Achievement Scholarship is for students who graduated high school in 2023 and is expected to continue for future high school graduates. Students can have an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of up to 25,000 and still receive this scholarship. The maximum award is $2,750 and is restricted to tuition expenses. Unlike other aid forms, this can be combined with other scholarships and grants.

The HFC Foundation offers scholarships to students at: Fill out the general application and avoid inputting repeating information about different scholarships. Scams are common, and reviewing the warnings at the bottom of this page is advised. The application period is from Jan, 1 through March 31.

Rotary Clubs, religious organizations, and PTA organizations offer scholarships.

In the event of lost employment or other financial emergencies, the Hawk Strong Emergency Fund can provide funds to students. Money can be used for childcare, access to technology, preventing homelessness, or unforeseen travel expenses. Anyone interested in utilizing this resource can visit the SOS room in A-125 or call (313) 845-9757.

For those paying out of pocket, there are tax credits. The IRS offers American Opportunity Credit or AOTC (formerly known as the Hope Credit) for up to $2,500 per student, per year. To be eligible, students must pursue a degree and have enrolled in at least half-time for at least one academic period. Students can only claim this credit for their first four years of post-secondary education.

Another tax credit offered is the Lifetime Learning Credit, which differs from the AOTC. Students can claim up to $2,000 per eligible student per year. Also, there is no minimum enrollment requirement, so a student can take one credit hour and still claim the tax credit. There are no restrictions when a student can take the classes. For example, someone can claim this credit on their taxes after their first four years of post-secondary education. In both situations, students must attend an eligible educational institution that can be used for tuition, fees, books, supplies, equipment, and other required course materials. Taxpayers must have their 1098-T form in order to accurately submit the correct qualified expenses on their taxes.

Additional types of financial aid opportunities from the federal and state government can be found at: