Every spring, millions of families in the United States make decisions about college. For new or returning students, college affordability is often a major consideration when making choices. To assist with access to college, the Federal Student Aid Office offers “$150 billion in federal grants, loans, and work-study funds each year to more than 15 million students paying for college or career school.” The Federal Student Aid office website describes it’s pride in sponsoring “millions of American minds pursuing their educational dreams.”
Unfortunately, as many people seek college as an opportunity for learning, career advancement, preparation for graduate school, or to complete a life-long or family dream, there are people who intend to take advantage of these hopes. In these cases, there are scammers who have implemented a whirlwind of deceptive activity aimed at bilking millions of dollars from students and families. According to The Smart Guide For Financial Aid victims of scholarship scams lose more than $100 million annually.
Among the stories of deceptive scholarship scams is John Aguilera, a California college student who is working to support himself toward a degree in biology. He was deceived and defrauded of over $700 by a scholarship scam as reported in December 2013;
In January of 2014, a phony Instagram account offered a faux scholarship from Oprah Winfrey. Designed to mirror the Winfrey owned cable network OWN, this scam claimed that the first 50,000 followers were eligible for a $20,000 college scholarship; and
San Diego resident Lee Schneider described attempts by multiple phony scholarship scammers to gain access to his bank account in this News Channel 7 video from November 2013.
After learning of John’s Aguilera’s story as well as the other scam examples above, I wondered if social media had a place in educating students about Financial Aid, scholarships, and could even be resources to combat scams. Resoundingly, the answer was “yes.” Here are a few samples of how colleges, universities, and the federal government, are utilizing social media messaging about real scholarship awards, timely deadlines and alerts, and other helpful financial aid information:
Liberty University uses Twitter and Facebook to advertise Scholarship Search Courses and other student resources. Liberty’s Student Advocate Office also offers a robust resource on Avoiding Scholarship Scams with ways to identify a potential scam or phony scholarship offer.
The University of Missouri Office of Student Financial Aid offers a YouTube video to explain how to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and a Twitter account which is used to offer a litany of information about scholarship opportunities and policy updates that help students.
At Indiana University Southeast, our Financial Aid Office offers Twitter and Facebook for students to access pertinent information and advertise Financial Literacy events. Additionally, their website links to a YouTube video to advertise summer school registration and an additional summer scholarship for books.
The Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships at The University of California Santa Barbara offers a YouTube channel with 7 easy steps to explain the FAFSA process, and a video to explain using IRS Data Retrieval to complete the FAFSA among 30 total videos to help students navigate the financial aid process.
One of the important considerations for social media presence by Financial Aid Offices is the quality of the interactions. Although it is unrealistic to believe that every student on each campus will be connected to Financial Aid Offices through social media, those current and future students who take advantage of SM to receive pertinent information can have a greater likelihood of avoiding scams because the information source is clear. Financial Aid Offices who utilize social media are offering the opportunity to check facts and ensure that accurate information is always available for students and families from a credible source. Every dollar counts when making a decision about paying for college. In the face of the unscrupulous scholarship scammer who hopes to have some of those dollars for themself, credible Social Media sources may be the tools that save the day.