It’s that time of year for thousands of high school seniors throughout Southwest Florida.
Students are plotting their plans for after school, and if they’re choosing college, it’s centered around where to go and especially, how to pay for it.
But, even with the cost of education being such a major concern, many students in Southwest Florida are leaving money on the table.
According to the Florida College Access Network, only 35.3 percent of seniors in the area complete complete FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, leaving an estimated $9 million unclaimed that students would otherwise qualify for.
One group is trying to change that.
“Ultimately, we want to create a culture of awareness and completion for FAFSA in our region, where students and parents know that the first step they need to take toward earning a degree or certificate is completing the FAFSA,” said Tessa LeSage, director of social innovation for the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. “For many students, receiving financial aid can be the deciding factor of where, or even if, they attend college or career school. We want to help them take advantage of the resources that are available to them to pursue postsecondary education.”
The FutureMakers Coalition, an education advocacy group made up of organizations and individuals in education, business, and government, is pushing a new initiative to make sure that students take full advantage of the opportunities and programs available when pursuing a college education.
Called “FAFSA First!” the goal of the program is to increase the FAFSA’s completion rate in the area by five percent this year.
In addition to the best known federal aid program, the Pell Grant, FAFSA is also used by many states, organizations, and universities to determine other eligibility for need or merit-based aid.
Changes to the system have allowed it to be completed earlier. FAFSA can be completed any time after Oct. 1, this past Saturday, and can be done with 2016 tax information. Previously, the application couldn’t be filled out until January, and required the most recent tax year, often meaning waiting to get tax data before being able to complete it.
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