Skip Dawson’s job is to find money for college.
The title of his free workshop—“How to Send Your Child to the College of Their Choice Without Spending Your Life’s Savings, Sacrificing Your Current Lifestyle Or Just Plain Going Broke”—exemplifies the exact nature of his business, College Planning of Greater Long Beach.
In California, average tuition for a full-time undergraduate can range from an estimated $600 to $30,000 per semester, depending on the type of college (i.e. community college, private institutions, etc.). In Long Beach, Cal State Long Beach’s basic tuition costs $2,303 per semester for full-time undergrads and the total cost of attendance (COA) is over $20,000 including books, room and board, and other fees.
“College is so expensive that families are paying $70,000 to $250,000,” Dawson said. “That’s a new house.”
Over $149 million in scholarships, grants, loans and work-study was disbursed to over 15,000 full-time undergraduates at CSULB in the 2008-2009 academic year. Dawson’s goal is to get this money into the pockets of families—regardless of income or status—sending their kids to college.
After working as a mortgage and insurance broker for over 20 years, Dawson stumbled upon the world of financial aid planning while helping his college-bound nieces and nephews.
“During my research I found there’s a whole sub world of information people don’t know,” Dawson said.
His background in finance helped him discover the secrets to understanding the financial aid process and introduced him to college planning as an entire career. The Lakewood native entered this profession under the tutelage of Ron Caruthers, well-known college planner in Carlsbad.
Since then, Dawson opened his business and has provided planning services for nearly 10 years. He said his work is all about knowing the rules.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is required to apply for most types of aid. It calculates an EFC, or estimated family contribution, which is the amount of money a family is expected to supply for college for one year. The amount is based on factors like family size, number of family members in college, family savings and current earnings. Subtracting the EFC from the cost of tuition equals the potential amount of aid received.
Dawson estimates about 75 percent of the FAFSA is filled out incorrectly. The most common mistake that costs families money is “overinflating their net worth,” Dawson said.
“It’s like doing taxes,” Dawson said. “Accountants know how to reduce tax liability and a college planner knows how to reduce the EFC, except the rules are different.”
Dawson examines each family’s financial situation and figures out how to get the maximum amount of aid. Since financial aid doesn’t cover everything, Dawson also educates them about other sources of aid from understanding loans to the family’s own resources.
“Nobody gets off for free,” Dawson said.
The root of College Planning of Greater Long Beach is Dawson’s love of education. A self-proclaimed education junkie, he believes in the importance of any type of education – not just academics.
A graduate of Lakewood High School, Dawson earned his bachelor’s degree in Business and Management Information Systems from CSULB but his education didn’t stop there. Dawson has pursued many fields, like scuba diving and sales, always going to the leading edge of technology.
“Education is top priority for me and the people around me,” Dawson said.
The future holds helping greater Long Beach families to pay for college. Among financial advice, College Planning of Greater Long Beach offers SAT/ACT prep and other personalized services. In addition, Dawson provides free workshops with information about college planning myths, grants, mistakes and more.
“It really is my passion to help people,” Dawson said.
Dawson’s next workshop will be July 13 from 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. at the Ruth Bach Library, located at 4055 Bellflower Blvd. For more information, visit www.collegeplanningoflb.com or call (562) 366-4803.