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 fifth 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 2 3 and 4.
UpliftED is the LCAN servicing students in Seminole, Orange, and Osceola counties. UpliftED leads a variety of initiatives aimed at increasing postsecondary enrollment, empowering adult learners, and connecting students with financial aid resources. They address these initiatives through the following impact teams: Adult Learners, Career Connections, College Readiness, Data, Equity and Research, Policy, and Scholarships and Financial Aid. UpliftED understands there are multiple barriers that can limit postsecondary education access and works to establish an equity-focused lens to address and combat these disparities. In an effort to meet Florida’s SAIL to 60 Goal, UpliftED is also working to increase the percentage of Central Florida residents with a high-value credential or degree.
Click here to learn more about work that UpliftED does for their Central Florida community.
UpliftED was joined by student fellows Reed Barkowitz and Samantha Guillaume to discuss Universal FAFSA and the need for emergency aid for students.
Before attending Stetson University, Reed was a high school student who was armed with information about the FAFSA and used this to help fellow classmates who had anxieties about paying for postsecondary education.
“I can still remember the conversation like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my 4th-period class — yearbook — and talking about college applications. I was stressed like any high school senior hoping to attend university, but the person I was speaking to was stressed for another reason. As we sat and talked about applications and SAT scores, they told me that they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to attend college because their family couldn’t afford it.”
Reed mentioned that college is expensive for everyone but that shouldn’t be a deterrent from simply applying, especially when considering the availability of the FAFSA.
“They looked at me at that moment, confused, before asking me what the FAFSA was, and how it would help pay for college. I explained more, and it seemed like I was rocking their world. I told them about Pell Grants and Work-Study and that there were tons of options to help them pay for college. They still seemed incredulous, but I told them to bring in some information tomorrow and I’d help them fill it out.”
In helping out one student, Reed quickly began doing the same for other fellow classmates. Many of them were confused and worried, unsure of how to pursue a college education. However, thanks to Reed, many of them started to have their fears settled, gained new information, and changed the way they looked at life after high school.
“This started a pattern of me helping the students in that class fill out their FAFSAs, apply for outside scholarships, and apply to college. If I didn’t have an answer, I knew how to get it for them and, together, we conquered the battlefield that is figuring out how to pay for college. These memories have stuck with me throughout my college experience, guiding me in finding what I was passionate about. The answer? College access, and that is why this fellowship was the perfect fit for me.”
By participating in FCAN’s Advocacy Fellowship, Reed was able to advocate for Universal FAFSA to elected officials in Florida and bring to life the impact the Pell Grant has for students.
“I immensely enjoyed getting to learn about the status of college access in Florida, having the opportunity to meet with representatives, and getting to meet like-minded individuals who were passionate about the same things I was. Throughout this fellowship, I learned more about the power of collective action and direct advocacy, the need for additional support for college-bound seniors, and the impact that one individual person can have. Together, we can make a significant change in people’s lives, and ensure that every student knows that postsecondary education can and should be an option for them.”
Samantha Guillaume is a first-generation college student and part-time employee, attending Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. When Samantha first began considering her postsecondary education, she was always thinking about her greatest concern: “How will I pay for school?”
“Affording college has proven to be a great challenge. I knew I would have fees, books, and other necessities. One semester, I had a transportation issue and couldn’t afford the repairs. I didn’t know I could seek financial assistance from my school, it wasn’t something that was widely broadcast across campus.”
Samantha greatly benefited from the federal pandemic emergency aid (Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund/HEERF), and recognizes that a standard form of emergency aid would be beneficial for other students that might be in similar situations.
“Since COVID-19, my academic life has felt overwhelming. The HEERF relief funds allowed me to stress less about my day-to-day life. Like many others, I was without a job during the pandemic. When the funds were distributed, it greatly benefited me and my family because it allowed me to focus and not worry about my financial burdens.”
The Advocacy Fellowship allowed Samantha to advocate for the importance of emergency aid, gain a greater understanding of postsecondary education access in Florida, and learn more about UpliftED’s work.
Seminole State College of Florida and UpliftED previously launched Destination Graduation, an innovative program that connects at-risk students to the resources they need to stay in school. Students who participate in Destination Graduation have a re-enrollment rate of 70%.
“Being a part of UpliftED allowed me to have a firsthand experience of what it means to advocate for statewide policies.”
FCAN hosts inaugural Advocacy Week
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