Last year, the US Census Bureau reported that nationwide 10 million students had decided not to attend college. At campuses serving low-income communities, this has translated into an 11% drop in enrollments, even as universities across the country are seeing record numbers of applications. It would be difficult to ignore the role that access to financial aid has played in this decline.
Before the pandemic, the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute reported that only 30% of low-income students at institutions in Georgia’s university system had received the HOPE or Zell Miller scholarships. Local and state initiatives such as REACH Georgia, the premier need-based college mentorship and scholarship program, and the Achieve Atlanta Scholarship, a four-year needs-based scholarship for public school students of Atlanta, are making great strides in addressing barriers to financial aid for low-income students.
Yet recipients of the state Pell scholarship – even with annual loans of $ 5,500 – will face an annual financial aid shortfall of about $ 7,198 per student, based on the total cost of university attendance, according to state data.
Earlier this month, the Georgia Board of Regents voted to freeze tuition fees on public campuses for the 2021-2022 school year. Considering that the average tuition fee at Georgia public colleges is $ 10,308, this is a step in the right direction. But, given that the FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid, submission rates for the 2021 Georgia High School Graduates Class of 2021 hover around 40%, that will inevitably be too little, too late for some households. low income.
With the passage of the optional test at many institutions, students who would have been excluded from the admissions process to some of the more prestigious colleges have seen opportunities to apply. This is evidenced by the record number of applicants; some colleges like MIT saw a 66% increase in applications for the 2021-2022 school year.
To exploreCOVID forced students to choose college without seeing it
For many professionals working to improve access to university, the pandemic has taught us to “do financial aid differently.” I have attended more intense one-on-one financial aid counseling, and schools and nonprofits have taken advantage of technology for texting / chatting. They increased the number of points of contact for their most vulnerable student populations in a way that went beyond the traditional “FAFSA 101” parties where parents learned how to fill out forms.
It proved that it was possible to dig deeper with students and parents to make college funding a community affair. There are plenty of opportunities to hire trained corporate volunteers and tap into free technology resources like SwiftStudent, which helps students file financial aid appeals, so more students can make informed decisions.
The students who will end up winning “Decision Day” are those who have analyzed their financial aid programs and who are aware not only of what it will cost them to enter college, but also of a game plan with their family. to make sure they are able to stay there financially.
It’s time for fairness discussions to include all parts of the college admissions process. This moment should provide college counselors with an opportunity to rethink financial aid planning aids, engaging students in an earlier understanding of key financial aid terms and processes before they do. ‘are reaching their final year.
There is also a unique opportunity for local and state aid providers to speak out on areas where their funds can have the greatest impact. At state level, the argument for need-based aid for Georgian students is reaching its proverbial boiling point.
Locally, whether it is an increase in ‘last dollar’ scholarships – emergency scholarships or subsequent scholarships (June-August) designed to fill gaps in aid programs student financial assistance – or an assessment of the selection criteria to include access for more vulnerable populations will require collective efforts on the part of high school counselors, college financial aid administrators and community at large to ensure that the promotion of this year’s graduating students is not left on hold.
What is really at stake is new economic inequalities. Without significant adjustments to our current financial aid infrastructure, it will be increasingly difficult to engage low-income students in the college admissions pipeline. And that is the greatest injustice of all.
About the Author
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces on local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.