Bus tour makes stop in Reno to educate students about options to pay for college

Reno Gazette-Journal: Just before he left school Wednesday, a teacher at I Can Do Anything charter school told Ryan Garcia about an event that would give him information on paying for college. A few hours later, the senior had won a $1,000 scholarship, which he plans to use to go to Sierra Nevada College and study film and video production.

"I couldn’t believe it," he said. "I was very ecstatic."

Garcia was among about 30 students and parents at the Sallie Mae Fund’s "Paying for College" bus tour Wednesday. Reno is the last of 60 stops on the nationwide tour providing information on financial aid and scholarships. The fund Web site said it is the largest provider of college loans.

Those at the Neil Road Community Center received packets of information which included guidelines for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the curriculum students should follow, online resources for scholarships and other resources.

Arnold Hernandez, spokesman for the tour, told the group that growing up in south Texas and going to college "was literally like the moon and the stars."

The youngest of seven children in an immigrant family, he knew college was out there, but it seemed unattainable. At age 9, he began working the fields with his family to help bring in income.

But through scholarships and determination, Hernandez found a way to attend a private Catholic university in Austin, Texas.

Hernandez said nationally less than 40 percent of high school freshmen will go to college in four years. In Nevada, that number is 27 percent, and even lower for low-income families and some minority groups.

"The Paying for College bus tour is all about closing the information gap," he said.

Some of the students, such as Jean-Paul Torres, would be the first in their family to go to college.

Torres, a senior at Reno High School, plans to attend Truckee Meadows Community College next year, eventually transferring to a University of California school for a degree in urban planning and design.

He said the information packet would be useful in applying for financial aid and provided Web sites he wouldn’t have found on his own.

"We’re learning all the way," said his mother, Marcelina Torres. "But we are excited, pushing for him to reach his goals."

TMCC partnered with Sallie Mae to put on the free event. The bus also will visit Wooster High School today and Sparks High School on Friday. At each session, a $250 scholarship will be awarded by raffle to a participating junior or senior.