In this season of FAFSA filing, it is important to keep our role as financial aid officers in mind. Financial aid offices are designed to help students access federal aid and scholarships in order to attend college. Whether or not we work at a community college or private institution, our main goal should be to ensure access for students of all backgrounds. FAFSA filing has changed a lot over the years. Paper and pencil filing has shifted to an online format. The biggest recent change is IRS data retrieval. This tool will change how we do verification, and how families complete the FAFSA process. Do we need a shift in how we promote FAFSA filing? At Casper College, we helped families with the FAFSA for many years with College Goal Sunday. Many of those attending came for the door prizes, giveaways and free food. In order to promote FAFSA completion with more flexibility, Caser College shifted to a FAFSA Filing Frenzy format. Attendance has dropped. This year we hosted one evening instead of two. We had less than thirty total attendees. Weather and less advertising could be factors in the drop in attendance. Many students came to fill out the FAFSA, but were unprepared. Families who did not have their taxes completed were encouraged to use estimates if a priority deadline was approaching. If no priority deadline was looming for the student, they were encouraged to fill out the FAFSA after their taxes were completed. Should we be focusing on tax filing rather than FAFSA filing? Some students won’t fit into this category as non-tax filers. Would this cut down on verifications and allow easier access for students? As the FAFSA continues to change, it is important to keep students’ access to financial aid in mind.
Often, students and parents believe the process is more difficult than it may actually be. When we provide individualized help to students, we give them the tools needed for success. Sometimes a little individual attention is all that is needed to break down a perceived wall. This can be difficult when we have less staff to do more tasks. But, isn’t our role to help students succeed? We are in the business of student success. We can promote success by taking students through the steps necessary for federal aid and scholarships. Explaining the process in terms that the non financial aid professional will understand is important. We work in this field every day, but many of our students are new to the process. I would love to hear ideas you might have of improving FAFSA awareness as well as the great ways you help students.
The FAFSA remains the gate to federal aid programs. How can we promote FAFSA awareness?
RMASFAA Association News Committee Member
Hathaway Scholarship Coordinator