If you’ve thrown up your hands attempting to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’re not alone.
FAFSA completion rates are down almost 10% in Virginia as compared to the same date last year. That statistic by itself would be disconcerting, but it only tells part of the story. Decreases are prevalent for students who need financial aid the most.
High schools that serve a large number of low-income students are down 33%. Schools with higher populations of minority students are down 17%. Inequities that already were present in education continue to be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Though the decline is troubling, the good news is, it’s not too late. Money for college still is available, and several colleges and universities in Virginia pushed back their deadlines for applications and financial aid in recognition of the pandemic’s effects.
Virginia’s Community Colleges, firmly grounded in accessibility and affordability, maintain rolling deadlines. The governor’s new “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” (G3) initiative provides financial support to cover tuition, fees and books to eligible Virginia students who complete a FAFSA.
Given the exceptional quality of higher education institutions in the commonwealth and this year’s adjusted timelines, high school seniors have numerous options for pathways that will serve them well.
We know pathways are useless if too many barriers obstruct the way. Most people who begin a FAFSA are stymied by questions on the form.
This is where Virginia’s access providers can help. Now through June 30, students in Virginia can receive one-on-one FAFSA assistance by going to: https://www.virginiacan.org/fafsa
Schedule a meeting, and you will be connected with an access provider from Access College Foundation, Education Credit Management Corp.’s The College Places, GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program, the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators or the University of Virginia’s Virginia College Advising Corps.
In the spirit of collective impact, these organizations have banded together to meet this critical FAFSA completion need for students and families across the commonwealth.
You also could find another provider that serves your school division or locality. There are several college access organizations in Virginia making a positive impact on postsecondary enrollment and completion, addressing opportunity gaps and working toward equity.
Education after high school is becoming more vital to the economic development and strength of our communities, and the health and well-being of our citizens within those communities.
Why should students and their families spend time on the FAFSA? According to a longitudinal study by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, 92% of seniors who completed the FAFSA enrolled in postsecondary institutions by the November following graduation.
Only 51% of seniors who did not complete a FAFSA did so. The difference is staggering. And understandable. It’s hard for most of us to process how to pay for anything that costs thousands of dollars.
FAFSA completion opens up several opportunities. If your family has substantial economic need, you could receive the Pell Grant, up to $6,495 for the 2021-22 academic year.
Pell grants do not need to be repaid except under a few circumstances, for instance, if you withdraw from the academic program for which the grant was given.
For those families with moderate income, FAFSA submission provides access to federal loans at low interest rates, the vehicle by which most students finance their education.
FAFSA completion also is a requirement for most scholarships, including those that are merit-based. And it unlocks institutional financial aid provided by colleges and universities, which truly can be the difference between a student attending or not.
Allow yourself a deep breath and then bring your hands back to the keyboard. You don’t have to tackle this alone. FAFSA completion is the most important step for students to find their footing on a college pathway, and Virginia’s college access providers are ready to guide the way.
Joy Pugh is executive director of the Virginia College Advising Corps at the University of Virginia, and is president of the Virginia College Access Network. Contact her at: email@example.com