Financial Aid Guidance Key to Helping Basic Skills Students Access Postsecondary Education

Mar 23, 2011

By Marcie Foster

Research shows that a significant percent of low-income students who are eligible for student aid don't take the required steps to access it. One way to ensure more of these students complete postsecondary education is to provide support in navigating the state and federal financial aid process.

Students in basic skills services, such as adult education and developmental education, are very often low-income and eligible for a wide variety of supports. To access this support, however, they must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Although the application is free, a high percent of low-income adult students do not apply for aid, especially those who do not have dependents. A 2008 study from the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance found that nearly one in three of the poorest independent students without dependents did not apply for aid. About one in six of the poorest student parents did not apply.

These numbers can be boosted and more students may access the resources available to them when local institutions support students going through the complex financial aid process.

Promising local examples of these efforts include:

In Ohio, Canton City Schools Adult Basic Education has a Transitions Facilitator who helps students understand the financial aid process and prepare their paperwork. The Transitions Facilitator distributes fact sheets on filling out the FAFSA and holds office hours during which students get one-on-one assistance filling out their forms. The facilitator also pushes students to complete these forms around tax time so they prepare them well in advance of institutional deadlines.

In Texas, the community-based organization Community Action has career counselors who partner with a local community college to help students to fill out their FAFSA applications. The counselor holds monthly FAFSA workshops in a computer lab where students can complete their FAFSA in real time. The workshop attendees are typically referred by adult education programs or family advocates at local Head Start Centers. Students are instructed to come prepared and bring their income tax information for themselves and/or parents.  A representative from the local community college also attends to field questions about the college enrollment process.

Visit Expanding Student Financing and Supports to learn about CLASP's financial aid policy recommendations.

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