The University of West Florida is hosting an event this weekend aimed at increasing the number of local students applying for aid to go to college.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, each year more than $24 billion of financial aid goes unclaimed. The “Form Your Future” national campaign aims to help students have a chance to receive some of the money by ensuring that they all have access to assistance with the Free Application for Federal Student Assistance or FAFSA.
There are a host of FAFSA informational videos on a dedicated You Tube channel, with a link from their official website at fafsa.gov.
For those who would rather have in-person assistance, “Form Your Future” events are being held at locations, including colleges and universities, across the country.
“It’s a free community outreach to help, it’s targeting high school seniors but any student who’s planning to attend college for 2018-19 is invited to attend,” said Shana Gore, director of financial aid and scholarships at UWF, pointing out that the university has been chosen as a host site for the fourth year in a row. “We have financial aid administrators available to help them [students] through the FAFSA process and also the Florida state application.”
The FAFSA “Form Your Future” workshop at UWF is this Saturday, Nov. 18 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the College of Business Atrium. It's the only one scheduled for this academic year. Previous events have drawn 50-100 students, with some filing their FAFSA for the first time. Others have already completed the application, but attend to ask questions to see if they’ve done it correctly.
Gore says FAFSA is the first and most important step for most people seeking higher education.
“Sometimes a financial barrier, you know can prevent students from being able to attend college and sometimes the financial aid application can seem a little intimidating to parents and families. So, just being able to offer the assistance and answer questions is needed.”
More than 65 percent of UWF students receive some form of financial assistance, including more than $99 million in grants, scholarships or loan assistance.
Unfortunately, many high school students in Escambia County are missing out on the opportunity to attend UWF or any other university or college. That’s because
“Really, we have low participation,” said Kimberly Krupa, director of Achieve Escambia. “Some of our participation rates in some of our high schools are in the low 20 percentage points. And, with the state average hovering between 34-35 percent FAFSA completion rates for the average Florida high school.”
Achieve Escambia is a collective impact effort focused on improving outcomes in Escambia County, from cradle to career. The initiative, which launched a year and a half ago, involves all sectors of the community working together to measure and come up with strategies to make improvements in a core set of outcomes. The 2017 baseline report is available on the Achieve Escambia website.
“Our community decided to start this at the Kindergarten readiness level and then next at the career readiness level,” Krupa said. “So, we’re bucketing and developing our capacity and our expertise in these two ends of the spectrum, so that we can then build the tools to go into the K-12 school district.”
In between, proficiency in third grade reading and seventh grade math, and high school graduation rates are among the core indicators that have been identified for improvement. A contributing indicator of higher education and career readiness is the FAFSA completion rate.
That’s why Achieve Escambia is looking for new strategies to get more students to apply. Krupa says one key is identifying what doesn’t work, such as FAFSA Nights at the high schools, due to transportation problems, work conflicts and other issues.
“So what we learned from other communities that have done this is and shown a flashlight on the data is that by using the FAFSA as a teaching tool and allowing students instructional time to complete their FAFSA in class, we can move the needle in some of these high schools,” said Krupa. Such a move could boost the FAFSA completion rate from around 20 percent up to 80 percent, with some communities reaching a 90 percent completion rate.
It’s a strategy that Krupa believes is simple and relatively easy to implement, but one that can produce huge, meaningful gains for students and families.
According to the federal government, 92 percent of students from low-income households that complete FAFSA will receive grants, while 85 percent of students have a chance to receive student financial aid.
Krupa’s conclusion that there’s nothing to lose by completing the free application, but there’s so much to be gained in terms of a young person’s future.
“Right, and it’s not just 4-year degrees; 65 percent of Florida jobs will require a post-secondary credential in just a few years,” Krupa said. “So we need to think beyond the confines of high school graduation and connect students to these resources.”
The Form Your Future event will begin at 10:00 Saturday morning at the UWF College of Business. It's happening on the same day as the Explore UWF open house for juniors and seniors, but the FAFSA event is open to all eligible students no matter where they plan to go to college.
Attendees seeking assistance with their FAFSA need to bring the following documents:
· Social Security Number
· Driver’s license (if any)
· Alien Registration or Permanent Resident Card (if not a U.S. citizen)
· W-2 tax forms and other records of money earned
· Federal income tax return for 2016 (if not completed yet, bring 2015 return)
· Foreign tax return (if any)
· Untaxed income records (such as child support received and untaxed pensions)
· Bank statements
· Other investment records
Students who participate in the event will be eligible for one of three $500 UWF scholarships.
For more information on Explore UWF, visit uwf.edu/explore.
For more information about UWF Financial Aid and Scholarships, visit uwf.edu/finaid.
For more information about the “Form Your Future” campaign, visit formyourfuture.org.