Southern Connecticut State University student, Maayra Nieves, remembers the struggle she faced when applying to college. “I was the first one to graduate high school and go to college. It was very difficult [when applying] and I did not understand the whole process, ” said Nieves.
She is not alone, applying to college and its costs can be a daunting, especially if you are the first one in your family.
Southern Connecticut State University Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships Gloria Lee says, “There are families who don’t understand the importance of an education and will not push their child to move forward with their college career. There are families who want to have their children attend college but are concerned in how to pay for and apply to college.”
To assist on the financial side, Connecticut through the State Treasurer’s office offers the Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET). Established in 1998, it is a low cost savings program designed to help families in Connecticut save for their children’s future college cost.
In recent years, Connecticut has increased its effort to make more families in the Hispanic community aware of the program. A full-time bilingual field consultant was hired to assist the state’s growing and diverse Hispanic population.
“I am committed to marketing CHET in a manner that is sensitive to the specific needs and desires of the Latino community. Not only have we targeted our marketing efforts to the Latino community in both Spanish and English via various Latino media outlets, we also have a seasoned Latina marketing professional and a bilingual outreach worker as part of our team. Last fall, they led focus groups of Latinos to ensure that CHET can best serve this community. From these focus groups, we have learned the importance of emphasizing how much college costs, especially for those families new to the process of applying to college,” said Connecticut State Treasurer Denise Nappier.
CHET has even developed programs to reach out to Hispanic students. One program is Parent University where CHET gives presentations in Spanish and in English at Gateway Community College. The next presentation is scheduled on April 26. Another program is New Haven Promise. New Haven Promise offers the Hispanic community an opportunity to learn about CHET in both English and Spanish. CHET has accepted invitations to teach about the program at schools such as the Multi-Cultural Magnet School in Bridgeport and others throughout the New Haven area. CHET has even participated in the Puerto Rican Day Parade where the organization hands out brochures in English and Spanish. CHET also makes presentations to groups and organizations in both Spanish and English, which can be either in-person seminars, or through monthly online seminars. More information on how to make a request or learn more about this, can be found on www.aboutchet.com
Lee says this is a step in the right direction to help the Hispanic students. “The CHET program can help Hispanic families invest in their child’s education as long as they are able to afford making an investment. Hispanic families need to understand the program in order to invest. Parents need to attend sessions in Spanish to learn about the programs the State has to offer,” said Lee.
CHET has grown since 1999 when Nappier took over the program. At the time, the program only had 4,000 accounts with assets of $18.5 million, but currently has over 100,000 accounts worth $2 billion in assets.
The invested money with CHET can be used at colleges and universities across the United States, as well as at vocational and technical schools, and even some colleges abroad. CHET also takes out fewer fees than other similar programs offered to families.
Recently, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed a new program to try to encourage more Connecticut families to enroll. The CHET Baby Scholars Trust would provide $100 to families in Connecticut that open a tax-advantaged CHET 529 college savings account on or before their child’s first birthday. It also allows for the same option for adopted children, as long as the account is opened within one year of the adoption. For those families that save $150 in the first four years, the state would match the amount, allowing those enrolled to be eligible for up to $250 in state funds.
As far as CHET helping the Hispanic community, Nieves feels there needs to be more done to assist them.
” I believe that it [CHET] can help the community in a sense of funding, but to help as far as what us Hispanics go through with language barriers and not being at the academic levels as our peers, there has to be a program customized and geared towards these specific issues,” said Nieves.