Last Thursday, I participated in an event organized by the National Community Tax Coalition on expanding college access and completion that highlighted several approaches to connecting more low-income students with a college degree. One of these approaches was Financial Aid U, an recent initiative of NCTC in partnership with nine community organizations across the country and with support from the Citi Foundation, which provides families with assistance filling out their FAFSA at the time they file their taxes.
This is very smart. The majority of the questions asked in the FAFSA come straight form the 1040, and since each can take significant financial savy to navigate, bundling the preparation of each with the assistance of someone trained to navigate those processes can remove a huge barrier to receiving financial aid. Offering these services through organizations in the VITA network also helps target the low-income families who have the most to gain by applying. In fact, 92 percent of FAU students are eligible to receive the maximum Pell grant, just over $5,500. This approach can help reduce the number of families for whom the complexity and lack of transparency surrounding the financial aid process compounds the financial barrier they already face by limiting the resources available to them to pay for college. In 2003, for example, around 1.5 million students who likely would have been eligible for Pell didn't file.
It's exciting to see the success that the program is already having and the promise that this type of approach holds. You can learn more about Financial Aid U here.