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Addressing Financial Aid Challenges for Spanish-speaking Families

Image of college students sitting on a school lawn doing homework.

Manuel Lamarche is a former AdviseMI college adviser who now works as a financial aid adviser at Ferris State University. For Immigrant Heritage Month, we invited him to write a blog post on the challenges facing immigrant families during the college application process.



Sometimes I catch myself reading a sentence or paragraph two or three times — not because I don’t understand the words, but because I am not sure what it is trying to communicate. That’s how many conversations about financial aid and money management go for people like me. I grew up learning English as a second language, so my parents and I were lost when reading terms like Pell Grant, cost of attendance, money market account, or IRA. Money and finances were not common topics in my house, and then you add in the jargon of the United States’ educational and economic systems, and it left me feeling lost, confused, and frustrated.

It does not have to be that way. While YouTube is home to many silly cat videos, it also offers a wealth of knowledge about money and financial aid — just make sure you are listening to reliable sources like universities, financial institutions, and reputable investing companies. It takes time, lots of time, but it’s possible to grasp how money affects our behavior, psychology, and relationships with others. One 5-minute video about personal finance a day for a whole year adds up to about 30 hours of financial literacy education. I have done this for years, and now I’m not afraid anymore. It’s empowering to ask smarter questions about loans and personal finances and understand the impact of inflation in my personal life. Give it try!

Equipped with this information, I was able to pay off my student loans and open my first retirement account. So what comes next? For me, the answer is easy: share this information with my peers, my friends, and other people in the situation I was in as a student. While I was serving as an AdviseMI college adviser for MCAN and AmeriCorps last year, I noticed that most universities in Michigan did not have many resources in Spanish or written for immigrant families like mine. Even when resources were provided in other languages, the vocabulary and imagery used were still difficult for someone doesn’t know much English to relate to or understand. Here is where I knew I could help!

During my service with MCAN, I collected Spanish-language resources about applying to college, completing the FAFSA, and student debt. My hard work and learning about money finally paid off — no pun intended — when I was hired as a financial aid adviser for Ferris State University. Now I have the time and wisdom to really support my community and provide them with stories that they would understand and relate to. In collaboration with other departments, I created a financial aid guide in Spanish and English to bridge the knowledge gap between parents who may not know English and students who are learning about financial aid. It took months of researching and editing, but it was worth it. It covers topic like FAFSA verification, financial aid eligibility for DACA students, and ways to locate additional money to pay for an education.

Financial literacy has taught me two important lessons that I have applied to my life and I will continue to share with others.

1) Time and patience. Through this blog, I have already demonstrated idea of compounding interest. Slow and steady wins the race because you build on top of what you know and have. 

2) Identify your flaws and fix them. When you are building your first budget, you will list your expenses and then your income. If you keep improving yourself and learning about money, you can discover ways to bring your expenses down and raise your income.

I hope my experience illustrates that growth comes from within. You have the power to change yourself and, trust me when I say this, the world as well.

Short Description

I grew up learning English as a second language, so my parents and I were lost when reading terms like Pell Grant, cost of attendance, money market account, or IRA.