Low-income students who really need college financial aid are also the same students least likely to turn in the FAFSA forms in enough time to get the federal funds. That’s the conclusion of a new report by the University of Illinois at Chicago and a prominent Illinois financial aid group.

Unlike other similar reports that end in doom and gloom, this analysis has a solution that we here at Florida C.A.N.! wholeheartedly endorse—access to networks of adults who understand the financial aid and college application process. Sounds like a local college access network (LCAN) to us.

“Completing the application requires a considerable amount of effort and social capital — personal networks that students can draw on to gain information,” said Mary Feeney, a UIC associate professor of public administration who conducted the study. “Students who have access to an adult who understands the process — a relative, guidance counselor, clergy member, or someone at a neighborhood association — are significantly more likely to complete the form and attend college.”

Across Florida, getting more high school students to complete FAFSA forms has been at the center of a number of emerging local college access networks (LCANs). Here at Florida C.A.N.! we have been sounding the alarm about low FAFSA completion rates for quite some time. We even created an interactive map that allows readers to look at high school FAFSA completion rates across Florida.  In our state, less than half of high school seniors complete the FAFSA, which pre-qualifies them for Pell grants, work-study programs and federal loans.

The good news? There are things you can do. Join or form a local college access network in your own community. Volunteer to help out at a College Goal Sunday event, designed to help students and their families understand and complete the FAFSA application.   Together, we can be that network of adults who help students navigate the financial aid process.  Together, we can make a difference.

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