08-26-2019 · Education · College Bound

United Way of Greater Atlanta has launched a new program aimed at helping students in select high schools apply for college funding by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid [FAFSA] form.

United Way hosted a pilot event for the program, which is sponsored by Delta Air Lines, last spring at Tri-Cities High School in East Point in Fulton County. Only about half of Georgia’s graduating high school seniors will complete the FAFSA form, leaving millions of dollars of federal student aid on the table each year. Of those that complete the FAFSA form, 90 percent will go on to enroll in post-secondary education.

There are barriers to filling out the form, though. There’s confusion about the process, lack of awareness about money that is available and fear of the unknown.

“I think a main thing is the income and a lot of parents have the fear or phobia that, ‘If I fill this out and don’t get aid, we’re in the same predicament now,’” said Janika Floyd, a Title-1 Liaison for Tri-Cities High School. “There’s also the time consumption of sitting down and filling out the paperwork. A lot of parents — they think it will take too long, or they will be too tired after work to do it. Some of our students are independent, and they have a fear of filling out on time.”

Students often stress about the first semester of classes and then graduation, and Floyd said those first semester grades are emphasized in the FAFSA forms. She says this stress can often lead students to burn out, too.

United Way of Greater Atlanta is partnering with schools, nonprofit organizations and volunteers to host events that bring critical resources to students and their families to help make college accessible. Trained volunteers will offer sessions on-site to students and their parents to help eliminate some of the confusion that comes along with these forms.

As a Title-1 Liaison, Floyd works to assist in “leveling the playing field” for students, and she helps connect the school to the parents with different conferences and events. She said they do host parent meetings to make them aware of FAFSA assistance offered throughout the year.

“Our counselors do sit down with the students and go over the questions that they see on there with parent. We try to emphasize that they can just answer what they can,” Floyd said. “All the questions can be intimidating.”

United Way’s College Bound targets high school seniors living in areas of low child well-being and college freshmen who attend schools with low student retention rates for events that include access to FAFSA form completion support and other resources.

“I think the United Way program is amazing,” Floyd said. “The way it worked out, there would have been no excuse not to come. It was all inclusive, and I really liked that about the program.”

United Way of Greater Atlanta will host free College Bound events from October 2019 – January 2020 with the goal of increasing FAFSA completion rates by 5 percent at participating schools.

Learn more at unitedwayatlanta.org.