Opening remarks: Braulio Colón, Vice President, Florida Student Success Initiatives, Helios Education Foundation
FCAN host: Kathy McDonald, Assistant Director for Network Partnerships
Filling out the FAFSA and learning how to access various forms of national, state or school-based financial aid can be a daunting challenge for students and their families, especially if they don’t have any experience navigating the college-going process.
Part II of FCAN’s “Paying for College” webinar series on January 27 highlighted the various types of financial aid available to Florida students and where the funding comes from, which helps students to focus their efforts.
Braulio Colón, Vice President of Florida Student Success Initiatives for Helios Education Foundation, opened the webinar with a reminder that today’s high school seniors face unique challenges due to the global pandemic.
“Students navigating the college-going process during COVID-19 are at an unprecedented disadvantage,” Colón said. He praised the teachers, counselors and other staff for their efforts to help keep students on track for postsecondary success. “I have seen and know the courage that has been demonstrated by our educators, and it’s nothing short of extraordinary and inspiring.”
But even before COVID-19, there was plenty of confusion from students and parents regarding how to pay for college.
Student misperceptions about paying for college
In 2019, CareerSource Suncoast surveyed 800 Florida high school students about their post-high school plans. While the largest share (57%) said they planned to pay for their postsecondary education using scholarships, 21% of respondents revealed they hadn’t even started thinking about how they will fund their education beyond high school.
Meanwhile, only 2% of survey respondents said they planned to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and use a federal Pell grant, even though 52% of Florida students are Pell grant-eligible. Florida students who didn’t complete the FAFSA last year left more than $100 million in Pell grants on the table.
While the FAFSA can be cumbersome to complete, it is still one of the best sources to make college affordable for the 4 out of 5 Florida college students who rely on federal, state and college-based aid to pay for college.
Financial aid forms families need to know
Daniel Barkowitz, Assistant Vice President of Financial Aid and Veterans’ Affairs at Valencia College, placed the FAFSA at the top of his list of financial aid forms families should familiarize themselves with.
“Students who apply early get more funding, so the earlier you get your application done, the better,” said Barkowitz, who added that students and their families still have some more work to do upon completing the federal form. “The FAFSA is the start, but not the end, of the application cycle.”
In addition to the FAFSA, Barkowitz — who has more than 30 years of experience working in financial aid — said families should also plan on completing the CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile and a Florida Financial Aid Application.
How understanding funding sources can help students
With limited time and potentially limitless options, students should focus their financial aid efforts on areas of funding that will provide the strongest return on their investment.
Barkowitz revealed that school-based (or institutional) aid is a major source of funding. As a result, students should also apply for financial aid at the institution they are planning to attend. The financial aid office will examine all the possible sources of aid students might qualify for through the institution, as well as highlighting potential avenues for federal and state aid.
Still, Barkowitz cautioned students not too get too excited over what might seem like a financial aid windfall. For instance, a $20,000 aid package from a private institution might dwarf a more modest financial aid offer from a public four-year institution. However, the remaining tuition and fees at the private institution could be double that of the four-year school.
On average, for-profit institutions have the highest net cost for students to cover.
“Millions of dollars in scholarships can still leave you with millions of dollars in out-of-pocket costs,” Barkowitz said.
FCAN thanks the following for their generous support of this webinar series:
To learn more about why the FAFSA is so important and where students should focus their financial aid efforts — or to view the webinar and download the presentation — take advantage of these resources:
About the ‘Paying for College’ webinar series
Students and their families are often confused by the myriad ways to pay for college. How to bridge the gap between family funds, financial aid and the total cost of paying for college? Funding their college education shouldn’t be a mystery. This webinar series breaks it down so you can help reduce confusion for the students you guide. Having a better grasp of the funding landscape can help students build a sound plan to pay for their postsecondary education.