During the fall of 2021, FCAN kicked off its first Advocacy Fellowship, working with Local College Access Networks (LCANs) to bring student voices to Tallahassee and advocating for statewide policies to reach Florida’s SAIL to 60 Initiative and achieve a Talent Strong Florida. This is the third part of a spotlight series featuring the LCANs who participated and provide the real stories of their students who advocated for emergency financial aid and a universal FAFSA completion policy. Read Parts 1 and 2.
Bridge 2 Life (B2L) is the Local College Access Network (LCAN) working to ensure Broward County youth are prepared to pursue postsecondary education credentials and access career pathways with livable wages. With over 60 partners, representing various educational, governmental, and philanthropic sectors, B2L is continually striving to achieve Florida’s SAIL to 60 Goal, outlined in House Bill 7071 from the 2019 Legislative Session. B2L has three main goals they are focused on addressing through their work in Broward County; these goals are college affordability, increased need for postsecondary advising, and providing career exploration and work-based learning experiences.
Click the following link to learn more about B2L’s goals for its community, as well as the community partners that are contributing to this work to benefit Broward County students.
Recognizing that Broward County, along with the rest of Florida, has continuously left millions of Pell Grant dollars on the table, B2L participated in FCAN’s Advocacy Fellowship to emphasize the importance of Universal FAFSA.
Hailey McTee is currently a student at the University of Central Florida, having just completed her first year. Before UCF, Hailey was a student at College Academy at Broward College, which provides high school students with the opportunity to earn their associate’s degree for free. During her time at College Academy, she had access to resources to guide her on her postsecondary education journey.
“One resource that I found helpful in particular was my Local College Access Network, Bridge 2 Life. Through their work, I was able to prepare for college and I also learned about the difficulties Floridians [can] face in obtaining a higher education. One resource that can help many people pay for college is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), but Florida has extremely low completion rates.”
“I first learned about the FAFSA my junior year of high school in a college readiness class. My guidance counselors and teachers often discussed FAFSA and hosted step-by-step workshops. Thanks to these resources, filing my FAFSA was simple and easy. Although I did not receive any aid, the form helped me realize that I would need to find alternative means to fund my education. Completing my FAFSA was an integral step in my financial plan for college. For my peers who did receive aid, it lifted a huge weight off their shoulders.”
Through her work with B2L, Hailey became aware of the impactful work the LCAN does in the Broward community and how unique her experience with FAFSA completion was.
“Many high school seniors never file a FAFSA and therefore never determine how much financial aid may be waiting for them. With a Universal FAFSA policy, students would be expected to complete their FAFSA to graduate. Students would therefore opt out instead of opting into the FAFSA, and completion rates could increase considerably.”
This year, Florida landed at 48th in FAFSA completion. By participating in FCAN’s Advocacy Fellowship, Hailey advocated for Universal FAFSA in Florida, recognizing that this would lead to an increase in completion rates.
“In sharing my story, I hope that I put into perspective how important it is for every student to have the right to learn what financial aid is available to them, regardless of what high school they attend. Federal financial aid exists to give more opportunities to those who need it most, so let’s ensure those opportunities are easily accessible.”
Kemani Nation is a recent graduate of Broward College, having earned his associate’s degree. When he was in high school, he knew he wanted to pursue a postsecondary education but was concerned on how he would finance it.
“Since I went to a small school, our advisors were able to give each student as much assistance as needed for college readiness. In a general meeting, the advisor brought up FAFSA and strongly suggested that, if possible, all students should apply.”
Kemani was able to receive guidance on postsecondary education at his high school and didn’t take it for granted. Knowing that funding his education was a primary concern, he did not hesitate when it was time to fill out the FAFSA and was able to have his mom help.
“Later, while applying for scholarships, I started to realize that there were many scholarships that required the student to have a completed FAFSA. This showed me that I now had access to more scholarships, just because I applied for the FAFSA.”
Although the main purpose for filling out the FAFSA is to find out whether a student is eligible for the Pell Grant, the FAFSA also unlocks aid in additional ways. One of these ways is having access to institutional aid, as some colleges and universities will award certain scholarships only if the student has filed out the FAFSA.
“Fast forward a year and I’m attending Broward College and, since I had a completed FAFSA, I gained the opportunity to be part of the Federal Work Study program. I could get work experience and earn an income while still going to school. I was then able to graduate from Broward College with my associate’s degree and never had to spend any money because of the FAFSA and all of the opportunities that came with it. With all the money that I saved, I was able to pay for housing and my tuition without having to worry about out-of-pocket expenses.”
FCAN hosts inaugural Advocacy Week
2021-22 Advocacy Spotlight — LEAP Tampa Bay + Student Fellows Sharon Barnett & Charlotte Finnical
2021-22 Advocacy Spotlight — PLANit Sarasota + Student Fellow Noah Ferebee