FCAN’s Amy Bolick, Community Engagement and Programs Manager, was recently joined by Doug Griesenauer, Director of Workforce Development and Financial Stability Initiatives at United Way Suncoast, and Jessica Manchette, Senior Director of Program Initiatives at Champions For Learning, who shared how communities can work together to drive FAFSA completion in their areas.

Why is FAFSA Completion Important?

According to recent data, Florida’s population is the 3rd highest for the proportion of students eligible for federal Pell grants, but ranks 31st for the proportion of eligible high school seniors completing a FAFSA. Because of this, Florida’s students leave behind over $100 million in potential Pell Grants every year. To address this problem, schools and community partners across the state of Florida have taken on the goal of increasing FAFSA completion rates in their areas.

The Power of Partnership

Doug shared with attendees how his organization, United Way Suncoast, partners with LEAP, Tampa Bay’s Local College Access Network (LCAN), to improve FAFSA completion.

Doug emphasized that the United Way has two primary strategies for targeting FAFSA completion. First, United Way recruits and trains volunteers in FAFSA completion and deploys them to FAFSA completion events. Second, United Way cross-promotes the importance of FAFSA completion through other community services they offer, like their Volunteers in Tax Assistance (VITA) program, and their advising on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

In addition to hosting several in-person trainings every year, Doug also records his trainings and makes them available online. He also makes his training slides available to other college access professionals who would like to provide similar trainings. If you would like to access these materials, email Doug at dgriesenauer@uwsuncoast.org.

Collier’s Collaboration

Jessica described how three organizations in Collier County — Champions For Learning, Future Ready Collier, and FutureMakers Coalition — work together to coordinate FAFSA completion efforts.

Last year, Champions for Learning planned regional FAFSA completion events out of necessity in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. According to Jessica, the community saw value in this approach, and decided to host regional events again this year. All FAFSA resources and events are posted in a central location on the school district’s website, making it easy for students and parents to plan on attending. In addition to these in-person events, Jessica also facilitates a virtual financial aid night for families who cannot attend.

FAFSA Tips and Tricks

Jessica identified four FAFSA questions that students often struggle to answer correctly, causing them to miss out on aid they should qualify for:

  1. What will your high school completion status be when you begin the 2019-2020 school year?

Students should answer “high school diploma” to this question. Many students do not realize that the question is asking about their status for the next school year, and therefore answer that they are still in high school.

  1. What will your college grade level be when you begin the 2019-2020 school year?

Students should answer “never attended college/1st year.” Sometimes, if a student has completed dual enrollment classes, they will put that they have attended college. This question, however, is specifically asking whether the student has ever attended college after graduating high school.

  1. What degree or certificate will you be working on when you begin the 2019-2020 school year? 

Students should answer “1st bachelor’s degree.” Sometimes, students will select the degree that they ultimately want to pursue, such as a doctorate. If students select this, however, they will automatically be ineligible for a Pell Grant.

  1. Will you have your first bachelor’s degree when you begin the 2019-2020 school year?

Pell Grants are only available for undergraduates who do not already possess a bachelor’s degree. If students select “yes” for this question, they will not be able to receive a Pell grant.

Important Tips 

Jessica emphasized that it is important to encourage students to list all schools that they may be interested in applying to on the FAFSA when they first file it. If they go back to add a school later, they will have to re-open their application. This increases the likelihood that the student will either make an error or be selected for verification.

Jessica also shared that students should list a school in Florida first, even if an out-of-state school is their first choice. Selecting a Florida school first will ensure their eligibility for receiving Florida state aid.

Show Notes:

If you’re ready to boost FAFSA completion rates in your area, FCAN and its partners have the resources you need to get started.

Be sure to visit our Past Webinars page for access to recordings and downloadable material from FCAN’s previous presentations.

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