When MelissaHilliardreceives her leadership-in-teaching master's degree Saturday from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, she will owe thanks to more than her family, friends and colleagues.
The Ellicott City resident will owe her educational opportunity to the loan she received from the Central Scholarship Bureau (CSB) in Baltimore County.
In summer 1998, Hilliard found herself in a no-win situation. She was a single parent with no health insurance. She had to resign from her job as a special education teacher in Baltimore County because her certificate had expired - she didn't get her master's degree in the allotted time.
"I didn't know I was under a time line, but once you have your certificate you have so many years to get credit hours to get a master's," she said.
Hilliard, 35, wanted to continue studying for a master's degree, but without a job and the means to pay for her son's day care she couldn't afford to. That's when she heard about CSB. She obtained an interest-free loan and was able to continue her education. Hilliard now teaches special education at West Middle School in Carroll County.
"I could not be where I am today without [CSB]," she said. "They really do help people."
CSB has helped more than 6,000 students complete their education in the past 75 years. Until recently, the organization provided only interest-free, noncompetitive, last-resort loans to residents of Baltimore and Baltimore County. Since March 1998, it has accepted applications from residents of Howard, Anne Arundel, Carroll and Harford counties.
To receive a loan from CSB, an applicant must have an adjusted gross income less than $75,000, plus $10,000 for each additional child in a post-secondary school. Students must first apply for all available government and school financial aid. If those funds still aren't enough, students can apply for a loan through CSB.
"We don't really investigate about private scholarships as long as the student filled out the FAFSA [free application for federal student aid] and talked to their school for financial aid," said RobertaGoldman, a counselor at the scholarship bureau.
Undergraduate students can borrow as much as $2,500 a year and graduate students are eligible for $4,500 per year, with a maximum loan amount of $10,000. However, Goldman said, if students pay back some of their loan along the way, they are eligible to keep borrowing as long as the balance doesn't exceed $10,000.
CSB has been in existence since 1924 and is a nonprofit and privately funded. It receives money from annual gifts, contributions, bequests and loan repayments.
According to CSB executive director Helen London, a decline in loan repayments has forced her to ask for support from the community through donations.
"CSB receives hundreds of inquiries each year from residents of surrounding counties whose available resources are insufficient to permit them to pursue their educational goals," she said in a statement. "Sadly, we've had to turn them away."
Yet Goldman said loan money will continue to be available for students. Most students are good about repaying their loans because CSB remains flexible with them.
"We sit down with the student and calculate payments over 60 months," Goldman explained. "We negotiate on an individual basis and work with everybody."
She said CSB forgives late or stalled payments in situations that can limit money, such as illness.
Donations may be sent to: Central Scholarship Bureau, 1700 Reisterstown Road, Suite 220, Baltimore, Md. 21208. For additional information about CSB or to request an application, call 410-415- 5558 or log on to www.centralsb.org.