8/21/13 Pilot program FAFSA helps students get financial aid

Pilot program FAFSA helps students get financial aid
Volunteers help with application process
By KAREN CARTER Enterprise EditorThe Mebane Enterprise 8/21/13  
Reprinted with permission.      

Alamance-Burlington Schools is one of 20 school districts in the nation selected to participate in a pilot program sponsored by the United States Department of Education,” says Jenny Faulkner, public information officer of the Alamance-Burlington School System.

“The national pilot program provides Alamance-Burlington with information about local students’ completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA),” says Faulkner.

Greg Darnieder, a senior advisor for college access for the U.S. Department of Education, spoke with the Enterprise about how FAFSA works when he visited the school system last spring.

Darnieder told the Enterprise: “I gave a couple of examples to the Alamance County Chamber of Commerce about how the community participates in the college access program. The strategies are a lot like the Big Brother, Big Sister programs. Citizens are matched with middle school students for mentoring and preparing them for the future.”

Darnieder referred to the work of Robert Balfanz, research scientist at Johns Hopkins University, who has worked with more than 100 high-poverty secondary schools to develop, implement, and evaluate comprehensive school reform. Balfanz has shown a direct correlation and connection between students’ attendance and behavior and how they perform academically especially with math and science, said Darnieder.

“If we know this, then why not put our resources here and ask the business community to help with volunteers being a big sister, big brother to middle school students that are struggling,” said Darnieder.

“In addition to mentoring, the dropout rate is challenging nationally, 1.2 million students dropping out of school each year,” said Darnieder.

How early should school districts be encouraged to use federal funds for college and career aspirations? Darnieder said he was encouraged when he visited the Alamance-Burlington middle schools, interviewing students, and he found them thinking and talking about what they wanted to do and be when they grow up.

From middle school to high school, FAFSA provides one more way public school districts can keep students on track for either college or employment after high school graduation.

Each student that fills out the FAFSA form could qualify for $5,550 and low-income families might get the maximum, said Darnieder. “For low-income families where money makes a difference whether they go to college or not, it’s critical.”

The money through FAFSA can be accessed any time during the calendar year.

FAFSA also helps counselors identify needs of the students and focus on those that need help.

But everyone benefits from filling out the forms, said Darnieder, because state scholarships work off that national form.

In addition, a number of work-study programs in colleges require completion of the form.

The pilot program Alamance Burlington Schools is participating in also helps families make financial decisions, such as getting grants versus loans.

Darnieder gave an example of San Antonio getting 500 community leaders to volunteer to help 2,700 seniors. Faith-based organizations also helped out and San Antonio had the largest number of completion of the forms in the nation.

Community members can be trained to help family members fill out these forms, said Darnieder.

In the Alamance-Burlington School System in 2012-2013, Marti Asher, CPA and manager of Gilliam Coble & Moser, L.L.P. CPAs, advisors, and retirement plan services, led a grass roots campaign to get students to complete the FAFSA form.

“Even if you don’t think you qualify for FAFSA, you should fill out the form,” Asher told the Enterprise. “It is used for consideration of all scholarships.”

As a volunteer, Asher worked on presenting a financial literacy program to families.

Barbara Massey, from the Alamance County Chamber of Commerce, introduced Asher to Robyn Hadley, executive director of the What’s After High School? Program working with FAFSA and the three met to organize a community outreach.

They invited CPAs, financial attorneys, and tax preparers to hear what FAFSA is and how to help students fill out the forms.

“Many didn’t know about it,” said Asher. FAFSA was part of the packet and helped families with affording college this past year as a result of the com-munity effort.

For more information, contact the social workers at the local school and the website is abss.k12.nc.us for the What’s After High School? Program.