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    We Can't Afford It, Can We?

    Christian education is NOT impossible to afford. Read how these five families were able to make it happen.

    by Amy Adair

    Pay for CollegeFeeling like you'd never be able to afford a Christian education? You're not alone. These five families knew the value of a Christian college education, but weren't sure they could afford it.

    Here are their stories.
    Money Matters

    Roxanne Kesselhon is the first to admit that she was shocked when she saw the price tag for the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota. Right away, it seemed it would be impossible to send her daughter Melissa there. The University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh seemed to be a better option—it was closer to their home in Neenah, Wisconsin, and would cost significantly less. "I still thought it was a lot," Roxanne admits, "but I knew we could afford that."

    After carefully assessing her finances, Roxanne was more convinced than ever that she couldn't afford to send Melissa to the University of Sioux Falls. She didn't have any college savings for her daughter, and the two child daycare businesses Roxanne owns with Melissa's stepfather weren't doing well. "We are definitely feeling the economic slowdown," Roxanne says. "Child enrollment has been down, and it's like we're only taking in one paycheck." The money just wasn't there.

    Matters only got worse when Roxanne realized they'd made a huge mistake on the FAFSA (see page 51 for a definition of this term). The family's maxed-out line of credit, which was $150,000, was accidentally counted as their net worth. The government then figured that the family could afford to contribute $20,000 toward Melissa's tuition.

    "The real picture is very different," Roxanne says. "When the FAFSA was filled out correctly, our expected family contribution was $1,700. But by the time we realized our mistake, all the grant money and need-based scholarships were gone. We learned a very hard lesson."

    The writing on the wall seemed clear: Melissa would not be able to go to a Christian college. But Roxanne continued to pray about it and pored over the family finances again. "I really believe God wanted Melissa to be at Sioux Falls," Roxanne says. "Because when I was ready to tell her she couldn't go, we saw how we could pull together and come up with the additional funds. It drained all our resources, but the money was there."

    Roxanne was able to land a second job as a caretaker for a woman who suffers from dementia. She also increased her hours at the family businesses to 50 hours a week. Melissa's younger sister, Brittany, also pitched in. She decided to quit her school baton team—which was costing nearly $100 a month—so more money could be sent to Melissa.

    Melissa, an elementary education major, arranges her class schedule so she can baby-sit three to four hours every day. The job puts some spending cash in her pocket and allows her to help pay for books and other school-related expenses.

    It hasn't been easy. And Roxanne is definitely looking forward to filling out the FAFSA again so Melissa can receive some financial aid. But according to Roxanne, the sacrifice has definitely been worth it. Roxanne says, "When I see Melissa on the dean's list and blossoming spiritually, I'd do it all over again."

    Double Duty

    Imagine sending not just one child to a Christian college, but two—at the same time. That's exactly what Guillermo and Cleotilde Rodriguez, office managers in Los Angeles, are doing. They emigrated from Nicaragua in 1988 with the hopes of providing a better life for their family—and that meant sending their four children to a Christian college. But when it came time to actually send the oldest two, Flor and Barbara, to college, the Rodriguez family didn't feel they could possibly foot the bill.

    So Flor applied to state schools—with one exception. Hoping above seeming hope, she also applied to Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. She knew that if she attended a public university, her family would be under less financial stress. But none of the public schools felt quite right, and she and her family knew Point Loma was the place for her.

    The next hurdle was figuring out how to come up with $21,000 in tuition. "Financially we put everything in God's hands," Cleotilde says. "We didn't know how we were going to pay for it. We prayed and we strongly believed God has opened every door for us."

    Cleotilde encouraged Flor to apply for every scholarship she could find. The family also took out loans and received some federal grants. As a result of her scholarship search efforts, Flor received some sizeable scholarships, including $2,000 from the family's church and a scholarship from Point Loma's biology department that covered 75 percent of her tuition.

    Even with all the financial help, it was still a stretch for the family to pay for Flor's education at Point Loma. Then two years later, Barbara decided to join her younger sister at Point Loma after spending some time at a community college. Guillermo and Cleotilde knew they had to seriously review the family budget.

    Barbara received financial aid and took out some loans, but Guillermo and Cleotilde still had to cover some of her expenses. They discovered that if they refinanced their house they could save a couple hundred dollars a month. This extra money goes toward college bills.

    The Rodriguez family also learned how to get by without many things they wish they could afford. Guillermo is driving a 1989 minivan. He'd love to replace it with a more reliable car, but he prays his van will continue running until the girls graduate. The house also needs some major repairs, which also will have to wait.

    The girls consolidated living expenses by getting an off-campus apartment with another roommate, which saves about $6,000 a year. Flor and Barbara each work almost 20 hours a week, and each girl chips in toward rent and food.

    "I know it would be easier and cheaper if the girls went to a public university," Guillermo says, "but the quality Christian education they are receiving at Point Loma makes it worth it."

    A Worthwhile Investment

    David Cooksey promised his late wife that he would send their only child, Kyle, to college. But in 1998, when Kyle was a junior in high school and just starting to look at colleges, David's financial life was turned upside down. He owned a family-operated True Value hardware store in Weatherford, Texas, but when a Home Depot moved into town, David's small store couldn't compete. The business failed, and David had to sell his house to help pay off the mounting debt. "We had nothing," David remembers. "I didn't want to file bankruptcy because I wanted to pay off my loans."

    A family friend was kind enough to give Kyle and David a place to live. David managed to find a job as a car salesman, but because he was paying off thousands of dollars of debt, he had nothing left over.

    So when Kyle started looking at Christian schools, David was certain he could not afford it. "I thought maybe Kyle should go to a school that was close to home so he could still live at home and save money," David says.

    But God had different plans. It seemed he was leading Kyle to Baylor University in Waco, Texas. And after lots of prayer, David realized Baylor was the right place for Kyle.

    Kyle received a few scholarships here and there—like a thousand dollars from Wal-Mart—which helped, but he still didn't have enough to cover the entire cost of his first year at Baylor. David was working almost 70 hours a week at the car dealership, but couldn't give Kyle any extra cash. So David borrowed even more money, knowing he'd have to work longer hours to pay it off.

    "We went to Baylor with faith in the Lord," David says. "And we knew we'd get through. We just went ahead and did it. I just signed my name to the loan note, knowing it was the right thing to do."

    Then came an unexpected miracle. At the end of his first semester, Kyle received a phone call from the director of financial aid, who awarded him a full-tuition scholarship. "I use this situation to tell people how God can do big things," Kyle says. "This is the biggest testimony of God's provisions."

    The Cookseys still had to pay for incidental expenses like rent, food and insurance. David has taken out loans to cover most of those costs.

    Kyle also pitches in. During the school year, he logs nearly 15 hours a week in the college's public relations office. He's learned how to tell his friends he can't afford to go to movies or order a late-night pizza. He also plans on taking over all of the school loans as soon as he graduates. "I'm just discovering that school loans are not a big deal," Kyle says. "The neatest thing about college loans is that there are payment plans that make it possible to pay them off slowly."

    Kyle will graduate this year with a bachelor's degree in business. He'll be about $20,000 in debt, but he says his experience was worth it. "I look at it like this," Kyle says. "A business gets started with a loan as capital. College gets you started in your career. Eventually you'll find a job and pay that off. It's OK to leave college with debt."

    Creative Savings

    Pam Lathi, a single parent, had always dreamed of sending her daughter, Crystal, to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But when it came time for Crystal to attend college, Pam, who is a clerk in a medical office, decided to give up her dream. She was convinced she and her daughter could never afford a Christian college education. So Crystal started her college career at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan, which was only three hours away from their home in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

    Crystal made friends and was succeeding academically. She managed to get financial aid to cover most of the tuition, so the Lathis weren't feeling much financial stress.

    Even with everything going so well, though, Crystal couldn't shake the feeling that God wanted her at Oral Roberts University. But transferring to ORU would nearly double her college costs. That financial leap seemed impossible for Pam. "I just couldn't afford it," Pam says. "But Crystal was positive God wanted her in Tulsa."

    Right before the start of her sophomore year, Crystal withdrew from NMU and came home to work for a semester. She applied to ORU and was accepted. But even with financial aid and some loans, she was still $5,000 short.

    Crystal visited her financial aid advisor at ORU twice the week before classes started to discuss other possibilities for aid. Both times she was told there wasn't any scholarship or grant money available because she was entering during the second semester. Then, during her second visit, her adviser suggested she talk with the dean of the nursing department.

    "I knew there was no way the dean of nursing was going to give me any money," Crystal says. "I was transferring as a nursing major, but I knew I planned to switch my major to international community development. Still, I figured I had nothing to lose."

    The dean of nursing prayed with Crystal about her financial problems. Shortly after their prayer, a private gift for the amount Crystal needed became available. "It was amazing!" Crystal says. "It was totally God, not me."

    Even though Crystal was able to enroll in ORU, the financial stress was not over. She still had to come up with money for food, books and other living expenses.

    That's where Pam came in. "If God can come up with $5,000, then I can come up with some money, too," Pam says.

    Pam started getting creative when it came to saving money. She watched every penny and started seeing big results. She discovered that if she switched her health insurance provider she could save $1,200 a year. She also discontinued her long-distance phone service and now only uses phone cards, which she buys at discount stores. "It doesn't seem like much," Pam says, "but wherever you can cut a corner helps."

    Pam got rid of her cable, stopped eating out, and drives an older car. She dropped her Internet service and uses her local library's Internet connection instead, which adds up to a $240 yearly savings. And when Crystal's car needed $1,400 in repairs, Pam took out a home equity loan.

    The Lathis agree that it would be financially easier if Crystal had stayed at NMU. But Pam says her daughter is growing—not only academically but also spiritually. That makes it all worth it.

    They have faith that God will continue to open doors so Crystal can graduate from ORU. "I don't know why this isn't financially easy," Crystal says. "But I know God is my Father and he loves me. He will provide—that's what he's in the business of doing."

    A Family Affair

    When Julio Orozco Jr. graduates in 2005 from Nyack College in Nyack, New York, he'll be the one who gets to walk across the stage. But his entire family will feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment. His parents and some extended family members have pooled their resources so Julio Jr. can attend Nyack.

    At first, Julio Jr. had his sights set on the honors program at the local community college. It seemed like a wise choice. He'd be able to live at home, and it would have been affordable for Julio Sr., a full-time pastor at Christian Missionary Alliance in Rockford, Maryland, and his wife, Ivania, who is the church's administrative assistant. Julio Jr. had maintained an impressive 3.8 GPA throughout high school, and they figured he'd be a shoo-in. Imagine their surprise when Julio Jr. was not admitted into the honors program.

    The Orozcos began praying that God would direct them to the right college and provide financially. "God started shutting doors," Julio Jr. says. "I didn't get accepted into any secular schools."

    So their son's acceptance into Nyack College was an answer to prayer—one that came with a $16,000-a-year tab. Julio Sr. and Ivania didn't have any savings, and they knew they didn't have the money to send him. So they started searching for scholarships, grants and loans.

    Julio Jr. received a $7,000 scholarship from Nyack and $5,000 from their church. The family took out loans to cover the additional cost.

    "We didn't want to take out loans," Julio Sr. says. "But we didn't have any alternative. And as parents, we felt it was worth it so Julio Jr. could go to a Christian college."

    But that's not all. Aunts and uncles send young Julio spending cash that helps pay for expenses like the concerts he's required to attend as a music major. When he needed a professional quality trumpet, his grandmother and an aunt purchased it for him. And an uncle gave him a laptop computer. The Orozcos know they are fortunate to have such a generous extended family. They realize that not everyone is so blessed.

    Julio Jr. intends to continue that family tradition of generosity. After he graduates, one of his main goals is to help his little sister financially so she too can attend a Christian college. He understands how important it is to have support from family.

    But he also understands the bigger picture—one way or another God will provide. "It's not like 'boom,' he'll give you all the money at once," Julio Jr. says. "You might have to live by faith from semester to semester, and you might not have everything you want. But you'll have everything you need."