The Pathway to Higher Education

College planning expert Martha Savery shares her advice for families with middle school students around planning and saving for college. If you enjoy the MEFA Podcast, please leave us a review.

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Penny Hauck: Welcome to the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority MEFA podcast. In this episode, MEFA will answer important and frequently asked questions specific to planning, saving, and paying for college. Today's featured expert is Martha Savery, Director of Public Affairs. For over 30 years, Martha has distinguished herself as an expert in financing higher education, helping countless students and families successfully navigate the complex and challenging journey to and through college.
Martha has held numerous leadership positions across financial aid and admissions departments at leading public and private institutions in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, including Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she spent a number of years. Martha is regularly quoted in financial and education press and is a frequent presenter at state regional and national conferences and seminars.
Martha, we really appreciate your time walking us through such an important topic for families. Ready to go?
Martha Savery: I am. Thank you for having me.
Penny Hauck: What advice would you give students and families in middle school around planning and saving for college? What should they know about the process? How does it work and what should they expect?
Martha Savery: This is such a great question, Penny. And I think that what I know of middle-school families is that it's really a time for students of exploration. And so what do I mean by that? I guess for me, it means students finding out about themselves, what they like, what they don't like, what are they good at in terms of studies and, and what really interests them about certain subjects that they may be exploring while they're in middle school.
It's also a time for them to begin to dip their toe into thinking about, you know, what do I want to be when I grow up? That's a big question. And I think that they take those three years through, you know, fifth, sixth and seventh grade or sixth, seventh, and eighth grade to begin to really think about those things.
So in terms of college planning, I guess I would say to families. If you've started to save, then keep saving. And if you haven't started to save for college, when you hit those middle school years, you still have a lot of time to do it. And what you can save in that period of time can really be impactful for helping finance that college education.
And finally, I would say, don't get too caught up in the process. I mean, the reality is, is that students are not going to be applying for college for several years. And so what they should be doing is saying, you know, what. What do we know about this particular student? What are their likes? What are their dislikes?
What do they think they may want to be when they graduate from college and will what they do in middle school to help support those dreams that they have of higher education or post-secondary success, whatever it is they choose, whether it's college or some other pathway when they graduate from college.
So talking about affordability, what can we afford as a family, what's real for us. And those kinds of questions really help begin to set the groundwork for that whole process when they're really faced with that, when they get to high school.
Penny Hauck: Martha in terms of affordability, what are some common misconceptions about the college financing process that you encounter when you're talking to families with children in middle school?
Martha Savery: Well, you know, families are concerned about the rising cost of college, and I totally understand that. I mean, if I was a young parent today. I already financed education for my own two children. I understand how challenging it can be when you think about what do I need to do now in order for them to be able to do that.
And I think the first thing that I would say to families is take a deep breath. If you're doing anything at all right now, then you're doing the right thing. If you're saving for college, then wow. That's terrific. That's great. But I would also say begin to think about making a plan because you're not going to get to that degree or that college entrance without really starting to think about how are you going to get there saving for college is a part of that, but also planning academically as a part of that.
And I think really the biggest message for families is don't self-select out of the process. So what I mean by that is don't say, you know what, it's too expensive for me to go to college. So I'm not going to even try. That's not true because we know that there are lots of different pathways that families can pursue in order to be able to make that college dream a reality.
We're fortunate here in Massachusetts, we have a wonderful public sector, college sector, so that families can really begin to see other ways that they may be able to achieve that they might be able to do a dual enrollment program in high school where they could take college classes while they're in high school and get credit for that.
So there are lots of different ways for them to be able to achieve that. So don't not even take advantage of the process because they believe it's too expensive.
Penny Hauck: So, how would you respond to a family with children in middle school who are having growing concerns about the rising cost of tuition?
Martha Savery: Well, I think MEFA is critical to families. Obviously. I think that really it's the time at which families are beginning to feel completely overwhelmed by that process. And I see it day in and day out in my work that we are kind of the voice of reason for them and that voice of calm when they're being totally inundated with information from the radio, from the newspaper, from their neighbors, from other, you know, families that they're dealing with within their high schools or middle schools.
And I would say again, Take a step back and take some deep breaths and say, you know what, we can do this and really understand that the pathway to college for families, if that's what they choose, not every student will go to college, but what we want is for students to be prepared for a good Post-secondary experience, whatever that might be so that they can be successful at that.
And if college is part of that, then begin to lay that groundwork now and really think about how are we going to achieve that? What do we need to do as a family? And those are the things that I think with all of our good information that we have online things like the podcasts that we're, we're providing for families webinars. We are there for families whenever they need to take advantage of it. We're in their communities and we're there 24/7 for them. If that's how they want to access their information.
Penny Hauck: How and why is financial literacy important to students and families in middle school? What should these families know about financial literacy? How does it play a role in the college planning process?
Martha Savery: Well, that's a great question. And I think that, you know, for me, financial literacy is such a broad term. And I think that when it pertains particularly to college planning, I really think about financial literacy in the aspect of affordability.
So when a family needs to become financially literate about college planning, they need to start at the place of assessing, okay. What's affordable for them in terms of a college education, have they saved? What do they think that they can afford when it comes down to making a monthly payment, if that's what it's going to be.
So there's lots of really great questions to ask themselves as they begin to get more familiar with the college planning process and really understanding what is it going to cost for them when they go to college, one of the tools that's available for them to make that assessment is something called the net price calculator. And a net price calculator is available on every college website. They're required to have them. And so every college has one on their website and what it asks very simply is for families to put in basic information about their income and maybe even some of their assets. And from that assessment, the college will provide to them an estimate of what their costs could be when they attend college. It's only an estimate and it's certainly not guaranteed, but it does give particularly young families a really good sense of what it's going to take for them to achieve that college education at a particular college or university.
Penny Hauck: So what would you say are some of MEFAS most important saving and budgeting tips?
Martha Savery: What I say to families is just start, it sounds so basic and so easy, but at the end of the day, I can't tell you how many families I've had conversations with in high school, who knew that they should have saved. And for whatever reason, just the thought of getting started was too much for them. And so they never took that very first step to begin to save.
And I think making it a family affair is really important, making sure that your family members, your extended family members know that going to college is a dream for the child or children that you're saving for and any help that they can give to you by giving a contribution towards your college savings account for birthdays and holidays.
It's so fundamental. And yet I know myself, I never did that. I never reached out and I come from a big family and I never reached out to all of my family members and said, you know what? I have two boys and they're going to college. And so learn from what I made mistakes with and say, bring your family under the tent and say, let's do it together.
Penny Hauck: Just a personal story to share being the first in my family to attend and graduate from college, MEFA wasn't around at that time. And I didn't have the resources that are available today to students and families. What advice would you give first-generation college students and their families when applying, saving and paying for college?
Martha Savery: Well, first of all, I would say congratulations for keeping your dream and not letting it go. Because what I know from working with first-generation families is that oftentimes they lose sight of that dream because they really believe that there isn't a way that they can achieve that. So it must've taken a lot of hard work and perseverance on your part to make sure that you were able to do that, particularly if you didn't have an organization like MEFA to help you.
The one thing that I'm really proud of in my work at MEFA is that we have connected with all kinds of organizations across Massachusetts to help those very students that don't have the same kind of support network that traditional students may have. So we work with community-based organizations.
We work with high school counselors and we work with other entities across the state that can help us. Make sure that those first-generation students have all of the information that they need, that they can adjust it in the way that's most easily digestible for them. And that they will not feel totally overwhelmed to the point where they'll step away and say, you know what? I can't do it so that all of the resources that may have can be used by any family and certainly by first-generation students, but we've also built in an additional layer, basically of a safety net for those students, by coupling with those community influencers that are important for them to help them keep that dream alive.
Penny Hauck: Thank you, Martha. You know, one last question I have is how would you suggest families stay in touch with MEFA and keep up with everything that me MEFA is doing? What are some of the ways that a family can connect with MEFA?
Martha Savery: Well, you know, I, I get excited when I think about that because yeah. There are so many ways today for families to connect with us.
And that wasn't the case maybe five or six years ago, but today we've become really active on social media, which I think is exciting. And, you know, Twitter has been a great resource for us as well as Facebook so that families can just go out there and get quick snippets and gather that information.
That's so simple to them. I'm really proud of the fact that our curriculum, our email curriculum is really continuing to just blossom and grow in terms of content, but also in terms of our reach, we continue to reach more and more families every year. And families can so easily sign up for emails by just going out right onto, and also our blog.
Our blog is kind of the backbone of all of that really good content that we have for every family, regardless of whether you're a young family or whether you have a child that's in college, we speak to all of those audiences. And the blog is a great way for us to be able to make sure that families can get the complete story that they need.
They may hear about it through email. They may see something referenced on Twitter, but they can come right to and, you know, get right to our blog. And there it is. And itself has great information all through the w all through the website. It's just there for families. So. Uh, there, there are so many ways that families can, can be in touch with us.
And I think that's also why our work with our community partners is so important because our community partners know that and they continue to send families our way to make sure that they know that we are giving transparent, reliable, straightforward information to families about college planning.
Penny Hauck: And that concludes this MEFSA podcast episode.
We thank today's expert Martha savory. To get more information on how to plan, save, and pay for college. Visit, email, or call an expert directly between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM. Eastern standard time. MEFA experts are here to answer your questions one-on-one, invite you to upcoming events or seminars, or steer you to an online webinar, packed with the information. Yeah. [00:14:00]

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