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 spotlight series will feature the LCANs who participated and provide the real stories of their students who advocated for emergency financial aid and a universal FAFSA completion policy.
LEAP Tampa Bay is a network of community partners from various sectors, including education, non-profit, business, and government organizations across Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. LEAP works to help traditional and non-traditional students complete a degree or workforce credential. Through a collection of initiatives, including Complete Tampa Bay and the FUSE Scholarship Program, LEAP is working to achieve its goal of having 60% of working-age adults in the Tampa Bay area with a degree or high-quality credential by 2025. Priorities of this Local College Access Network (LCAN) include increasing opportunities for education and training, building stronger business and education partnerships, and supporting clear pathways that lead to shorter, less costly ways to complete a degree or credential. Click the following link to learn more about the wonderful work that LEAP is doing across the Tampa Bay area.
Participating in FCAN’s first Advocacy Fellowship (2021-2022), LEAP was joined by two students, Sharon Barnett and Charlotte Finnical, who recognize the importance of completing the FAFSA.
“FAFSA began for me, with my son who had just graduated high school. The process was not explained and seemed daunting. But that did not discourage us. We worked through the process and figured it out. But it didn’t stop there. As I worked through the FAFSA for my son, he inspired me to finally go back to college.”
An unexpected turn of events, Sharon now would become a college student along with her son. With that, she found herself in front of the FAFSA once again.
“As a non-traditional student, I was unaware that I, too, would need to file the FAFSA. I found myself again faced with the need to figure FAFSA out, not as the parent but now as the student. FAFSA afforded opportunities by way of receiving the Pell Grant and loans. This was a huge help for both my son and me. The process did seem to get easier as I neared the end of my degree.”
“FAFSA helped to afford the college education that I was looking to accomplish. Finally, in December 2021, I became a first-generation graduate from St. Petersburg College with a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Administration.”
“My journey with FAFSA started when I was a senior in high school. My high school journey was a little unconventional, being a student at Florida Virtual School. However, I was still very excited to graduate and start college. I was fortunate enough to have family and community members who wanted to help me navigate the college process, and one of the biggest things they told me to do was fill out my FAFSA as soon as it opened. I was apprehensive of this at first, as I believed that I wouldn’t qualify for any grants. However, I still followed their advice and filled it out.”
Charlotte waited and months later, saw that she did not qualify for the Pell Grant. Unsure whether she should’ve filled the FAFSA out, she continued the college planning process and would soon find out her hard work wasn’t in vain.
“In February of my senior year, I received an email encouraging me to apply for a merit-based scholarship at St. Petersburg College. The scholarship was merit-based, but they still recommended that I have my FAFSA filled out. The deadline was approaching very quickly, but because I had already filled it out, I was able to apply for the scholarship just in time for the deadline! Much to my surprise, I ended up qualifying for the scholarship! From that point on, I made sure to fill out FAFSA every year, so that I could continue to qualify for other scholarships.”
While it can be a daunting process, Charlotte understands the benefits of filling it out every year and the aid that can be unlocked by doing so.
“I really believe that FAFSA is worth the effort for those interested in doing it. While it may be difficult and challenging the first time, the benefits of getting extra support for higher education goes a long way! That’s why I’m so excited to support LEAP as they continue to work to make the FAFSA an easy process for anyone who fills it out!”