College Bound FAFSA Initiative: improving postsecondary access for Atlanta’s youth
By Damian Ramsey
The College Bound Partnership: Making College More Affordable
The government sets aside funds each year to help students pay for postsecondary education, but too often students are unable to access them. In fact, $2B+ is left unclaimed annually. Why? Because the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is intensely complicated, especially for first-generation families who have never applied. In fact, there are more than 100 separate questions, many requiring specific financial details. To help support students and parents in this high-stakes process, Learn4Life (L4L) helped launch the College Bound FAFSA Initiative in partnership with The Scholarship Academy and the United Way of Greater Atlanta.
What Is FAFSA and Why It Matters
The FAFSA is a form students and families must complete to secure part of the more than $120 billion in financial aid the government provides annually to help pay for college (2-year, 4-year, or technical programs). Completion of the FAFSA is one of the strongest predictors of postsecondary enrollment, especially for low-income students and students of color who most benefit from financial assistance. A longitudinal study of more than 23,000 high school students found that high school seniors are 84% more likely to immediately enroll in college if they complete the FAFSA, and for students in the lowest socioeconomic quintile, that number jumps to 127%.
The College Bound Program Is Working
The initiative supports postsecondary enrollment and completion by helping high school counselors in metro Atlanta’s most under-resourced schools assist students and families with the FAFSA. Last school year, 10 high schools across the region received a comprehensive suite of supports, including free FAFSA training for staff and community volunteers, FAFSA completion events (both in-person and virtual to accommodate COVID safety precautions and improve accessibility for families), marketing materials, and incentives. We were able to engage 751 students and support the completion of 437 FAFSA applications, putting hundreds of students on a path toward an affordable or even debt-free degree.
More Support Is On The Way
Taking into account feedback from district leaders, principals, counselors and parents in last year’s cohort of College Bound schools, we have refined our FAFSA programming this year to include a dedicated AmeriCorps member on-campus weekly, targeted events for specialized groups, and the inclusion of a ‘Cost of College’ workshop to teach students how to calculate the financial aid gap for their desired 2-year or 4-year institution. So far this year, College Bound has hosted 5 two-day FAFSA completion events and engaged over 500 students from high schools in DeKalb, Fulton, and Clayton counties.
The current postsecondary enrollment rate for metro Atlanta’s nearly 42,000 seniors is 72%, up from 68% in 2021. While we are making progress, we must continue working together to provide all students, especially our region’s most vulnerable, with direct support to overcome barriers to FAFSA completion and improve their chances for college success.
For information on how to get involved with College Bound, email Damian Ramsey (firstname.lastname@example.org), Community Engagement Manager at Learn4Life. To join L4L’s conversation about postsecondary access and completion, sign up for our Change Action Network here. All are welcome.