1/13-1/14: Discussion on Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Happy New Year!

Many of us are looking at the year ahead and trying to find ways to support learners under the developing circumstances of COVID-19.  If your program supports learners continuing on to post-secondary education, you may be familiar with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  The FAFSA is used to apply for federal grants, work-study, and loans.  Post-secondary institutions uses FAFSA data to determine federal aid eligibility, and many states and institutions use FAFSA data to award their own aid. 

Join us on Wednesday, 1/13, and Thursday, 1/14, for an asynchronous discussion on working with adult learners on understanding and completing the FAFSA.  Below are the questions we'll be considering and invite you to share your experiences related to the FAFSA.

Wednesday, January 13th:

  • Does your program instruct learners on the FAFSA and how to complete an application?  If you do, what does that instruction look like, either in-person or virtually? 
  • For programs that are doing some form of FAFSA instruction, who is responsible for leading this instruction?  Do you have an identified staff person supporting financial aid, or is it an informal part of all teachers' and counselors' roles?

Thursday, January 14th:

  • For programs that are not doing some form of FAFSA instruction, what  are the obstacles to incorporating this type of instruction into your program?
  • What resources would be most helpful for adult educators looking to provide some form of FAFSA instruction in their program?  How can FAFSA's guidance and resources be more responsive to the needs of adult learners and educators?

Mark your calendar and come back to this thread to share your questions, experiences and best practices for supporting learners with the FAFSA.  

Best,

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

michaelcruse74@gmail.com

 

 

 

Comments

Welcome to the first day of our discussion on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  Our two-day conversation presents the chance to share what's working, and what challenges exist in preparing adult learners to access funding for post-secondary education.  The FAFSA is used not only for federal dollars, but also by many states and institutions in distributing their education funding. 

Today, we'll be focusing on how programs that work with learners transitioning to post-secondary education prepare their learners to complete the FAFSA.  Tomorrow, we'll be talking more about the challenges programs face, and ask your feedback on resources that may better help prepare adult educators and learners to successfully navigate the FAFSA.

For today's conversation, please consider the questions below and respond in this thread with your experiences and observations.

  • Does your program instruct learners on the FAFSA and how to complete an application?  If you do, what does that instruction look like, either in-person or virtually? 
  • For programs that are doing some form of FAFSA instruction, who is responsible for leading this instruction?  Do you have an identified staff person supporting financial aid, or is it part of all teachers' and counselors' roles?

The global health pandemic of 2020 and the subsequent economic impacts had severe impacts on many organizations large and small.  As an organization, we responded in ways that both followed safety and health guidelines and preserved strong human connections with adult learners.  During the months following the COVID-19 outbreak, we utilized a number of online tools, including Zoom, Microsoft Team, and WebX to stay connected to our adult learners.  In instances where online connection was not a viable solution for an adult who may have had connectivity issues, we connected with that individual or household through the phone.

We provide coaching and assistance to "adult comebackers" by assisting them in creating  FAFSA ID (FSA ID) account, updating to an FSA ID from their prior FAFSA application.  Moreover, we provide guidance to ensure that each application question is answered correctly and submitted on time--in order to receive optimal financial assistance.  The FAFSA instruction also includes explanation of the federal and state loans and grants that the student may be eligible to receive.  The Post-FAFSA completion instruction includes understanding the type of aid that the student has received--i.e., grants, types of loans, subsidized and unsubsidized loans.

Malik, thanks for sharing your program's work with 'adult comebackers' in Philadelphia! It sounds like you've successfully pivoted to the realities of social distancing and virtual meetings through the platforms you shared.  You highlight the importance of several key factors in applying for and receiving an aid award.  

You said, "...we provide guidance to ensure that each application question is answered correctly and submitted on time--in order to receive optimal financial assistance." While changes can be made to most information before an application is submitted, I don't think it can be stressed enough how important it is to enter the most accurate information in the most timely manner, based on the application windows below:  

Academic year   FAFSA open date     Federal FAFSA deadline

2020-21                Oct. 1, 2019                June 30, 2021

2021-22                Oct. 1, 2020                June 30, 2022

You also said that, "The Post-FAFSA completion instruction includes understanding the type of aid that the student has received--i.e., grants, types of loans, subsidized and unsubsidized loans."  This is also an important part of the conversation with learners, which shouldn't be overlooked by programs.  The Studentaid.gov site provides information on the different award types to help educators and learners better understand their aid package.  

What other best practices/resources have programs tried to help more adult educators and learners utilize the FAFSA? 

Thanks for the question, Michael.

Adult educators have access to obtain a toolkit that provides federal student aid information and other outreach tools. It is available for download at:  https://financialaidtoolkit.ed.gov/.

Other resources are computers, digital access and connectivity to the internet, and a basic understanding and knowledge of how to aid the learners in completing the FAFSA application. Providing additional workshops throughout the year with topics addressing some issues adult learners may experience is extremely important, including incorrect filing of taxes, not enrolling in selective service for the male population, emancipated minor, etc.  Adult educators should remain current with new information or changes to the completing the application. Subscribing to educational periodicals is also a resource to remain updated.

Hi everyone,

This is certainly a challenge, as the FAFSA, of course, can intimidate potential or returning students. At a community college, specifically, we try to remember that many of our students may be "looking" for reasons not to access higher education, so it is so important to offer support for FAFSA completion. This proved to be especially true during the pandemic, when our local economy brought forward adults who had lost their jobs, experienced a cut in hours, and were juggling the decisions to pursue or return to school while also parenting children in virtual learning at home (we estimate about 30% of our students have children). 

Much of our college access work is accomplished two-fold: (1) A combination of structured outreach and support, in the form of partnerships with local organizations such as Job and Family Services, El Centro, and our local community action agency. These strong partnerships lead to phenomenal reverse referrals as students navigate both FAFSA and other forms of federal or local assistance; and (2) 1:1 assistance, which we have found to be such a value to our students given their lives are diverse and group FAFSA sessions can be challenging to facilitate. While we still facilitate group sessions as needed, our team works to be available for 1:1 FAFSA support via chat, as well as on-campus right now. We utilize student assistants and other staff members to provide concierge help with the FAFSA. This is truly helpful, especially for adult learners, who need additional assistance in navigating the questions, talking through verification paperwork that might be needed, and how to accurately answer the questions. 

It is so critical to acknowledge that adult students, especially, are navigating several systems at the same time...so anything we can do to help guide them on accessing funds via the FAFSA is critical.

Marissa, your comments provide a lot of food for thought around FAFSA outreach, education, and facilitation. 

Your systems partnership approach is a great example of working collaboratively to provide support to those in need.  I'm interested in hearing more about how you and your partner agencies collaborate to serve learners' need for application support for different programs.  As Kathy Tracey mentioned in another post to this thread, one of the challenges for learners is with collection and management of required documents.  Many of the same documents are required for programs other than the FAFSA.  Do you have any strategies or resources that you and your partners use to help learners collect and manage documents?  See this list of required documents for independent learners.

I also appreciate your comment about the value of 1:1 assistance.  You mention the use of chat as a way to work with learners who are not on campus.  StudentAid.gov's Contact Center also provides phone, live chat, and email support to connect learners to answers about their FAFSA.   This type of multi-platform support is important for learners navigating the FAFSA, especially when access to in-person support is not available.

 

Hi Everyone,

This promises to be a great discussion!

Last October, I experienced the FAFSA for the first time first when I filled one out for my daughter for the 2021-22 school year.  One thing I learned was about the necessity of having the FSA ID number created before filling out the FAFSA.  One huge issue for our students is having their parents' tax information and other information needed for filling out the form.  I am curious about how programs trying to help adult learners ensure that their students have all the information needed before filling out the FAFSA.

Mike, thanks for launching this important discussion!

Steve Schmidt

This is a challenge.  When we have conducted FAFSA nights for students and parents (either in person or live) we often ask the parent and student to bring their tax returns with them to the session.  Many adult learners may be independent, though, and not require parental information.  There are 10 qualifying questions that allow a student to be independent of parents, the most common are age (24+ years old), married, have children of their own, veteran.  Many adult learners likely meet this test and can skip parental information.

Thanks, Steve, for highlighting this important question.  Determining whether a learner is independent, or not, is an important step to knowing what documentation is needed to complete the FAFSA.  This resource from StudentAid.gov can help: For purposes of applying for federal student aid, what’s the difference between a dependent student and an independent student?

 

All, 

From my days as a program level intake person, instructor, and even program director, one if the key issues  I often experienced is the students lack of document management. 

Students often move and may not file or keep prior year tax documentation. The difficulty with FASFA for many students is they often get caught up in the filing process because of these document gaps. 

One strategy used in the past was to help students organize and locate the information they will need. Has anyone else experienced similar concerns with students filing FASFA and how have you helped the student address potentially missing information? 

Kathy

Kathy brings up a great point about needing to work with learners around understanding which documents are required and tracking these items down.  While there may not be an easy solution, checklists are a good place to start.  The 7 Things You Need Before Filling Out the 2020–21 FAFSA® Form is a good online reference, and there are numerous, printable PDF files that can be freely downloaded to help learners identify and track what is needed.  Here are just a few that might help:

Education Quest Foundation's 2021-2022 FAFSA Checklist

National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators FAFSA Checklist 2020-2021

Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority FAFSA Checklist 2020–2021

What other systems are you using to help identify and organize needed documents for the FAFSA?

I had the issue of lost documentation all the time when I ran a small college. Parents and students lost documents, especially tax documents.  Tax filers can order a tax transcript to recover that information.  It takes a few days but it may be easier than searching every shoebox in the house:  https://www.irs.gov/individuals/get-transcript

It's also worth noting that sometimes families have trouble with the FAFSA because they did not file taxes but "should" have filed.  The only real option is to file for the year in question, then complete the FAFSA.

I am a director of an Adult Education Program.  In the past our GED students have not had access to financial aid because they do not have a High School Equivalency.  However, we have hosted workshops in our program to try to introduce "next steps" for our students as we always strive to have them move on to post secondary classes or training.  That said, we do partner with WIOA who, as approved for our LWIB, can pay for tuition for students in our AE program who want to co-enroll in CTE/credit classes.  In order for them to receive these funds they must fill out a FAFSA prior to receiving those funds.  This is part of the WIOA mandate as I understand it.  That is done, I believe as both one on one, but also in directed groups

Margaret, thanks for sharing your program's work with the FAFSA for your dual enrolled Adult Education / Career and Technical Education (CTE) learners.  You mention that your staff works with learners "both one on one, but also in directed groups."  I wonder if you can tell us more about what those sessions look like?  Were (or are) in-person sessions done in computer labs, where learners are able to work through the application and receive help, as needed?  Are they being conducted virtually while programs are observing public health guidelines?  Who on staff leads these efforts?

If there are other programs offering 1:1 and/or group sessions, how are they organized, and by whom?

 

Typically, we invite a representative from Financial aid to participate in a training.  This has been done in person (preCovid) and virtually [ currently.  Moreover, we have a coordinator who will connect students one on one with a representative from financial aid if they need it.  I guess what I am saying here is that we are at the ready to help when students need it..  Students complete their High School Equivalency at varying times.  We want to make sure that we are meeting the students where they are and serving them with what they need when they need it. As so many of us, all of our services are now available on line at at a distance.  As I stated in the previous comment, many of our students who seek co enrollment fill out the FAFSA while applying for WIOA funding.  Our WIOA partners have been hosting on line sessions.  I also believe that they are hosting workshops in a computer lab, following all established protocols to keep everyone safe.  I should also state that our students are able to check out technology, both laptops and personal hotspots if they need them.  This has been a huge help in all things.

All, 

I am curious how many of us engaged in this conversation have the adult education program at a community college versus a workforce partner, community based organization, library, or K-12 district? 

If you are not housed in a community college, do you find the FASFA process overwhelming? How do you connect your students to Financial Aid experts? 

Thanks, 
Kathy

 

Welcome to the second day of our discussion on the FAFSA.  Today, we'd like to hear more of your feedback around challenges to implementing instruction and support of the FAFSA in your program.  The questions below are a springboard for hearing more about what is needed by educators, counselors, librarians, program managers and other stakeholders to create stronger connections between adult education programs and the FAFSA.  

  • For programs that are not doing some form of FAFSA instruction, what  are the obstacles to incorporating this type of instruction into your program?
  • What resources would be most helpful for adult educators looking to provide some form of FAFSA instruction in their program?  How can FAFSA's guidance and resources be more responsive to the needs of adult learners and educators?

Thanks, Steve.  Video resources are important to help learners, especially when in-person events may not be feasible.  The Office of Federal Student Aid also has a site to view and download resources  explaining all stages of the application process.  The site includes videos on the financial aid process, types of aid, borrowing, and budgeting videos.  These are available in both English and Spanish.

 

Good morning all!

I love LINCS; it has been so helpful to me over the years.  I wanted to share some information regarding FAFSA applications and adult students with higher educations (Bachelor's Degree or higher) from other countries.  These students are NOT eligible for Pell Grants.  I have had many clients who answered "no" under the question "Will you have a Bachelor's Degree before the start of this school year?" because they believed that their foreign education would not be recognized or because they didn't want to have to pay for a new degree.  The FAFSA considers this fraud, and in the past 5 years I've had many clients who were denied citizenship because they came with higher education to the United States and used Pell Grants to return to school, and were charged with fraud.  Please advise your adult students with education that if they are interested in studying another Bachelor's Degree, they will have to take student loans.

Thanks!

Kristina, this is good information to know; thank you for sharing it!  What other special considerations are there for different groups of learners? 

One of the changes made to the FAFSA in recent years is Entrance Counseling.  The goal of this counseling is to ensure that applicants understand the responsibilities and obligations they are assuming.  This is important for all borrowers, and helps learners like those Kristina shared about avoid mistakes that can have serious consequences in the future. 

On a related note, for learners and families learning English, the FAFSA is also currently available in Spanish.  Below is direction from The Financial Aid Toolkit on how to locate and access information in Spanish.

  • As you look through the list of resources on the Search Financial Aid Tools and Resources page, you'll see that each resource has a description, an indicator of the resource type, and—in many cases—indicators of other available formats and of other resources that are closely related to that resource. Any resource available in Spanish will have a hyperlink to its Spanish version on the "Also Available In" line of its entry.
  • If you're working with a student or parent who's more comfortable reading Spanish than English, send him or her to StudentAid.gov and point out the "Español" link at the upper left corner of any page. Almost all of the site has been translated into Spanish.
  • This site has a page with tips on answering questions asked by non-U.S. citizens; some of that information may be of use to you.
  • The U.S. Department of Education does make interpretation and translation services available for inquirers who speak languages other than English or Spanish. Information about language assistance services is available from 1-800-USA-LEARN (1-800-872-5327) (TTY for the deaf or hard of hearing: 1-800-730-8913) or ed.language.assistance@ed.gov.