Financial Aid Application First Step to Success

Guest Correspondence

BY AMY FARRINGTON SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY MAR 5, 2016

In 2015, the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership, supported by the Chamber’s Sarasota Tomorrow initiative, examined the barriers to post-secondary education and training and found that one of the most prevalent reasons that high school graduates do not move on to any kind of higher education is the lack of access to financial resources.  The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and what it can ultimately provide, is important in bridging that gap between perceived lack of access and various available sources of funding.

FAFSA is a financial aid form that is essential for high school seniors to fill out so that they can be considered for all possible sources of student financial aid. Nearly every student is eligible for some source of financial aid including Pell Grants, loans or work-study programs. Pell Grants, which are based on financial need, are awarded at an average of $4,000 per eligible student. An important but often overlooked aspect of available financial aid is that it is available for all post-secondary education including vocational training, not just two- and four-year universities. 

In 2012-2013, less than half of all eligible Sarasota county high school students completed the FAFSA form, leaving over $2 million in Pell Grant dollars untapped. Florida ranks 35th in FAFSA completion but is the fifth highest state in eligibility for federal Pell Grants. According to the Florida College Access Network, which is focused on supporting communities to improve college and career preparation and access, for every 10 percent that a school can increase its FAFSA completion rate, the same school’s college-going rate will increase 3 percent. This means that at a school with 500 students and a baseline completion of 15 percent, a 10-percent increase in completion would mean an additional 15 students would enroll in higher education. 

To proactively work to raise completion rates and ultimately access to post-secondary education, the Local College Access Network, a part of the larger Talent4Tomorrow Partnership, launched an outreach effort to raise awareness, increase participation and ultimately completion of the FAFSA. This collaborative effort by over 30 area organizations, including the Sarasota County School District, has resulted in events at area high schools and other community activities to assist students and families in FAFSA completion and an awareness campaign launched through local media channels. 

These efforts are paying off. Currently, Sarasota County is leading the state in the completion of the 2016 FAFSA, with 25 percent of Sarasota County high school seniors completing the form as of February 19th. The increase in completion goes beyond the reported statistics to real life impact on the students and families who will now have access to advance their education in their career field. Ultimately it also benefits our community by improving educational outcomes and workforce preparedness.

Amy Farrington is vice president of Public Policy and Sarasota Tomorrow Initiatives for The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. 

For more information about FAFSA, visit www.fafsa.ed.gov.

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