Educators in Florida arent the only ones urging high school students to apply for federal financial aid. During a visit to Florida last month, President Obama extolled the virtues of submitting information for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)–this means all students should be filling it out, including those who think they are better off financially and might not qualify.
One group pushing for more students to complete the FAFSA is the Florida College Access Network, which has a mission to improve college and career preparation, access and completion.
The first thing that makes completing the FAFSA important is you really dont know how much financial aid will be available to you until the application is completed, Florida College Access Network Senior Researcher & Policy Analyst Troy Miller told VOXXI. Financial aid for college is obviously really confusing.
Students Miss Out on College Aid
The reason behind the push is its estimated that Floridas 2013 high school graduating class missed out on more than $100 million in financial aid by not filing out a FAFSA. Furthermore, nearly 60 percent of all 2013 seniors across the country who completed the FAFSA were eligible for a Pell Grant, which can be worth up to $5,645 annually that doesnt have to be paid back.
In Florida, Miller said FAFSA is one of two main financial aid applications students complete. The other is Florida Financial Aid Application. The problem is last year Florida students only filed 93,000 FAFSAs compared to more than 120,000 state aid applications. Its estimated that if Florida students filed as many FAFSA applications as state applications, that would have resulted in more than $50 million in Pell Grant dollars to high school grads.
FAFSA Covers Student Loans
In addition, FAFSA also covers loans and work-study funds.
The research kind of commonly reaffirms the main reason students dont complete financial aid applications is that theyre just unaware of the eligibility criteria so they assume that theyre not eligible, Miller said. It might be they think their parents make too much money to be eligible for a free grant they wont have to pay back. The equation they use to calculate how much aid one is eligible for is quite complicated, but roughly speaking, about 95 percent of Pell recipient families make $60,000 or less.
The reality is Floridians understand the value of an education. A poll of Florida residents revealed 88 percent of parents want their kids to go to college but only 33 percent think that college is affordable.
Data shows 85 percent of students at four-year colleges use financial aid to help cover the cost of higher education. As far as filing a FAFSA, data shows another benefit is low-income students are more likely to enroll in, persist at and complete a college degree.
So the gap between aspiration for college and wondering whether you can afford it, can really only be closed by increasing your awareness and increasing the information available to students about what financial aid is available to them, Miller said. Completing the Florida Financial Aid Application and FAFSA are really the first two steps. You cant answer the question whether you can afford college until you have those applications completed. Otherwise, youre simply guessing.
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