Challenge Puts College Students Inside the Box to get Cash

by Jessie Clark

Mayor Greg Fischer stands behind his podium and in front of a giant blow-up, money-blowing machine. “We have not had a prop like this yet,” says Mayor Fischer. As bizarre a presence as this multi-colored, carnival contraption has beneath the sober gaze of the portraits of mayors past ringing the Mayor’s Gallery, it may become an unlikely tool for reducing financial barriers to college education.

The cash cube is the centerpiece of the Grab Cash for College Challenge. PNC Bank will sponsor this 55,000 Degrees initiative to increase awareness and drive up local applications for Federal Student Aid.

The Challenge is open to anyone who is seeking financial aid in attending or returning to college, from high school seniors, to students already enrolled, to adults who want to start or finish a degree. It works like this:

The prospective or current college student must fill out the online form, Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). The applicant must complete this official form to qualify for the Challenge.

Once the FASFA is complete and official, the prospective or current student must register at 55,000 Degrees’ website. Registering here gives the applicant the chance to become one of three prospective or current students to compete in the cash-grab on Sunday, January 29, 2012 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the University of Louisville.

The three finalists will be randomly chosen from all applicants, and each will have their 30 seconds of glee inside the cash-whirling chamber. The finalist who grabs the most cash will win a $1,000 scholarship. The two runner-ups will win scholarships equal to the amount of Jacksons, Grants and Franklins they manage to snatch from the air, earning up to $500 each.

The Challenge is an initiative of 55,000 Degrees, a Louisville organization whose aim is to inspire and support 55,000 Louisville residents to attain a college degree by 2020. According to 55,000 Degrees’ 2011 Progress Report, there are 90,000 Louisville residents who have some college credits, but never obtained a diploma. The report also notes that Louisville ranked last among its competitor cities in the percentage of African-Americans holding college degrees.

According to Mayor Fischer and 55,000 Degrees Executive Director Mary Gwen Wheeler, the cost of higher education presents a huge barrier. FASFA can help lighten the load for students. While the Challenge is a “fun way to sweeten the pot,” as Mayor Fischer puts it, the real goal is to encourage as many Louisvillians as possible to apply for Federal Financial aid.

Mayor Fischer and Ms. Wheeler urge current and prospective students to apply for FASFA in January. “Time is of the essence…this is first come, first serve money,” Fischer says. According to 55,000 Degrees, Kentucky’s FASFA funds will likely be committed by mid-February to late March.

And even if on the 29th Louisville residents don’t find themselves inside a cash tornado, current and prospective students can find free professional assistance for their financial aid applications at 3 different Louisville locations from 2 to 4 p.m.:

  • University of Louisville, Bigelow Hall, 2307 S. 3rd Street
  • Jefferson Community and Technical College – Southwest Campus, Administration Building Auditorium, 1000 Community College Drive
  • Ballard High School, East Building/Cafeteria, 6000 Brownsboro Road