Financial Times

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently hired me to work on a piece about a family struggling with the financial aid for their children’s college tuition. Given the situation with today’s economy, the piece was an attempt at capturing the circumstances of a family that was in good financial shape until two layoffs, illness and bad timing in general flipped their life upside down.

For anyone who might be a subscriber, here’s the link to the Chronicle’s story: http://chronicle.com/article/When-Life-Gets-in-the-Way-of/126082/

I spent a few days with the Schillinger family of Easton, Mass., focusing particularly on their youngest daughter, Diane. Diane, a freshman at UMass-Amherst, has the furthest to go, as she has just started at college and the financial aid system. My assignment was simply to capture her in her every day life, both back home in Easton during break, as well as on campus back at school.

Here’s an abbreviated take from the assignment.

20110124 -- AMHERST -- Diane Schillinger, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, sorts through a variety of paperwork, including financial aid forms, in her dorm room on campus on Jan. 14, 2011. Schillinger has been struggling with the complexity of financial aid as her family also deals with financial troubles back home in Easton, Mass. Photo by Kelvin Ma (Kelvin Ma)

20110124 -- AMHERST -- Diane Schillinger, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, sorts through a variety of paperwork, including financial aid forms, in her dorm room on campus on Jan. 14, 2011. Schillinger has been struggling with the complexity of financial aid as her family also deals with financial troubles back home in Easton, Mass. Photo by Kelvin Ma


20110124 -- AMHERST -- Diane Schillinger, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, sorts through a variety of paperwork, including financial aid forms, in her dorm room on campus on Jan. 14, 2011. Schillinger has been struggling with the complexity of financial aid as her family also deals with financial troubles back home in Easton, Mass. Photo by Kelvin Ma (Kelvin Ma)

20110124 -- AMHERST -- Diane Schillinger, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, sorts through a variety of paperwork, including financial aid forms, in her dorm room on campus on Jan. 14, 2011. Schillinger has been struggling with the complexity of financial aid as her family also deals with financial troubles back home in Easton, Mass. Photo by Kelvin Ma


1/10/11 -- EASTON, Mass. -- Mark Schillinger sorts through piles of financial paperwork as he looks for his wife's disability forms at their Easton, Mass., home on Jan. 10, 2011. With two kids in college, Mark, who is currently unemployed from his work as a facilities and building manager, and his wife, Pat, are struggling with the complexities of student financial aid along with their own financial setbacks. (Kelvin Ma)

1/10/11 -- EASTON, Mass. -- Mark Schillinger sorts through piles of financial paperwork as he looks for his wife's disability forms at their Easton, Mass., home on Jan. 10, 2011. With two kids in college, Mark, who is currently unemployed from his work as a facilities and building manager, and his wife, Pat, are struggling with the complexities of student financial aid along with their own financial setbacks.


1/10/11 -- EASTON, Mass. -- Diane Schillinger spends some time with her show horse, Jake, at the Clover Valley Stables in Easton, Mass., on Jan. 10, 2011. Schillinger, who is a freshman biochemistry major at UMass-Amherst, hopes to attend veterinary school after graduating and competes and shows at the amateur level with Jake. (Kelvin Ma)

1/10/11 -- EASTON, Mass. -- Diane Schillinger spends some time with her show horse, Jake, at the Clover Valley Stables in Easton, Mass., on Jan. 10, 2011. Schillinger, who is a freshman biochemistry major at UMass-Amherst, hopes to attend veterinary school after graduating and competes and shows at the amateur level with Jake.


1/10/11 -- EASTON, Mass. -- Diane Schillinger goes over some financial aid information with her father, Mark, at their Easton, Mass., home on Jan. 10, 2011. Diane, a freshman at UMass-Amherst, and her family are dealing with the complexities of student financial aid as her parents workout their own financial hardships with Mark being unemployed and her mother, Pat, just now returning to work. (Kelvin Ma)

1/10/11 -- EASTON, Mass. -- Diane Schillinger goes over some financial aid information with her father, Mark, at their Easton, Mass., home on Jan. 10, 2011. Diane, a freshman at UMass-Amherst, and her family are dealing with the complexities of student financial aid as her parents workout their own financial hardships with Mark being unemployed and her mother, Pat, just now returning to work.


20110124 -- AMHERST -- Diane Schillinger, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, stands outside the Financial Aid office on campus on Jan. 14, 2011. Schillinger has been struggling with the complexity of financial aid as her family also deals with financial troubles back home in Easton, Mass. Photo by Kelvin Ma (Kelvin Ma)

20110124 -- AMHERST -- Diane Schillinger, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, stands outside the Financial Aid office on campus on Jan. 14, 2011. Schillinger has been struggling with the complexity of financial aid as her family also deals with financial troubles back home in Easton, Mass. Photo by Kelvin Ma

The story ended up being the cover story and center spread for last week’s Chronicle, as well.

Much thanks to Schillingers for being to generous with their time and for being so open with what is for many families, a very private matter.

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