Program Helps Students Navigate Financial Maze
Miami Dade College’s North and Wolfson Campuses have brought Single Stop USA into the institution.
Single Stop USA is a non-profit organization whose main goal is to ensure that households are kept financially stable, so that students can receive a good education. It offers eligible students with free resources such as food stamps, financial counseling, health insurance, legal advice, psychological counseling referrals, and tax preparations.
A third Campus will be determined in the summer of 2011.
“It’s an important program,” said Mercy Arenas, a Single Stop coordinator at North Campus. “Students need to take advantage of it.”
Fully-operational since the first week of early October, MDC has heard from more than 200 students seeking assistance.
The program aims to prevent people in economic need from having to go to different government offices, and possibly getting discouraged to complete the application for benefits they are eligible for.
“I really needed the extra help. They took me through each and every step. I applied for food stamps, and received them,” said Diedre Smikle, an 18-year-old North Campus social work major. “I feel relieved. I had no idea I would have ever qualified. It was very nice to know that these people are there for you.”
Each student takes a screening test given to determine if they are eligible. The questionnaire consists of a series of questions concerning household population and monetary income taking 10-15 minutes.
The student then sits down with a coordinator to a complete an application that is sent to the Department of Children and Family Services. The application typically take months to process, but through Single Stop, it takes one to four weeks for it to be processed and approved.
Single Stop Director Barbra Pryor said the main goal of the program is to help end poverty amongst students and boost graduation rates. Single Stop sites, she said, are helping students access an average of $1,500 in benefits and tax refunds.
“I would have appreciated this if I were a student,” Pryor said. “I know students get frustrated with other departments that send them to a million other places, so we try to guide them, instead of having them go through a maze.”
According to Janet Zoglin, a Miami-based Single Stop consultant, only 31 percent of community college students who set out to earn a degree actually complete it.
“There is about $65 billion of unused funds every year,” said Zoglin. “We want to make sure they get whatever they can in their hands in order to stay in school.”
Launched by the Robin Hood Foundation in 2007, Single Stop is stationed at three colleges: The City University of New York, the City College of San Francisco and Miami Dade College.
According to Zoglin, last year more than $300 million was provided to 120,000 families.
“Students that are eligible do not even know it,” Pryor said. “We want all students to have access to what they truly qualify for and need.”
J.C. Urbina contributed to this report.
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