The second in a series of stories related to the start of the school year
NEW CUMBERLAND-As a high school student at American Spirit Academy in East Liverpool, Devin Peck remembers representatives from Mount Vernon Nazarene University visiting the Christian school every year.
He remembers hearing about the college at church camp. Then, in the spring of 2012, he visited Mount Vernon, Ohio, and that did it. He knew he had to go there.
Devin Peck, 18, of New Cumberland, calls Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio, his dream school. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
"It has one of the most beautiful and high-tech nursing training facilities I've ever seen," said Peck, who graduated from American Spirit Academy in May and wants to earn a bachelor of science in nursing and become a registered nurse.
The next thing Peck remembers is the sticker shock at learning that it costs $30,670 a year to attend Mount Vernon, a private, liberal arts, Christian college affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene and located in central Ohio. "You see the initial pricetag, and you darn near have a stroke," he said. "I was like, 'I can't afford this.' But I applied anyway. I'm devoted to going there."
The cost for tuition, room and board clashed with Peck's financial reality, which included the fact that his father and stepmother, Brad and Tammy Peck, have a limited ability to help with his college expenses.
"For college, I'm pretty much on my own. They will help me if there's an emergency," Peck said. "I fully support their decision. This is a life choice. This is something I really had to decide for myself. They wanted me to know that it's a decision that should not be taken lightly."
Peck was so convinced that he was meant to attend Mount Vernon Nazarene that, although he visited other schools, he applied only there. He also visited the main and East Liverpool campuses of Kent State University, Youngstown State University and Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa.
Peck's determination to attend Mount Vernon Nazarene grew even as he confronted his seeming inability to pay for his college education. "Slowly, as time went by, I was really searching for what I should do. I really felt God pulled my heart to go toward Mount Vernon," he said. "I had a battle within."
But Peck's spiritual struggle led to some practical action. He researched his financial aid possibilities and put together a package that will cover most, but not all, of his expenses:
* Two federal Stafford loans (subsidized and unsubsidized) totalling $9,500 a year;
* Scholarships from Mount Vernon totalling $12,700 a year;
* A federal Pell Grant totalling $6,145 a year; and
* A work-study program totalling $1,800 a year.
"Once you take into account my loans and what funding I have, I'm still responsible for an additional $242 a month," he said. "These payments have to be made, and if I can't make them, I could be forced to leave."
Peck's application to Mount Union was accepted, but his attendance is contingent on his financial aid package and his ability to keep up with payments, he said.
"I was awarded the most possible funds from the school. Unfortunately, it's not 100 percent, and I'm still really struggling. I'm sitting here looking at it-it's going to be rough, but it's not an impossibility," he said.
In addition to the work-study program, Peck will have to work part time 20 hours a week to cover such things as books. "I'm stressed about it," he said.
Complicating matters further was Peck's academic performance in high school and the loss of his savings following a car accident in January. Much of his savings had come from working at the Hot Dog Shoppe in East Liverpool for the past year.
Peck said he nearly flunked out his freshman year, meaning he had to work extra hard the last three years of high school to improve his GPA and, by extension, his prospects of getting college scholarships. He ended up graduating with a GPA of 3.04; his ACT score was 19.
"It took work. It took three years of hard work to fix my mistakes from my freshman year. The harder you push, the more it becomes a reality," he said. "Going to a Christian college was one of my biggest goals."
Peck said he encourages his peers to not limit their applications to colleges they can afford.
"There's nothing wrong with going to Kent, but if you're feeling called to something bigger ..., don't let something as little as funds make you decide not to apply. The reality is: Just apply and go through the financial aid process," he said.
That's what Peck did.
"Thirty thousand dollars was an impossible dream for me," he said. "There was no way I could have paid for that, but there was a part of me, as I was going through the application process, that said, 'Maybe there's some hope.' "
Peck is glad he listened to that voice.
"It's definitely my dream school," he said. "I still get shot down every single day, but ... there's still hope, even though I've been told, 'That school's too expensive. Why are you going there?' I understand it's going to be tough, but it's not impossible."