Thursday, October 27, 2016

Accessing Student Financial Aid - Fill out the FAFSA

The FAFSA (or Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the gateway to financial aid for most students pursuing postsecondary education. This includes federal aid such as student loans and Pell grants, need-based state aid administered by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA), and a variety of assistance provided directly by postsecondary institutions.

With an increasing reliance on debt to cover rising college costs, it is more important than ever for students and families to complete the FAFSA to access financial aid that will assist in making postsecondary education more affordable.

There are several major changes to the FAFSA this year:
  • An earlier start date: The opening for FAFSA applications used to begin January 1, but for students planning to attend college in the 2017–2018 academic year, the FAFSA application will now be available starting October 1, 2016. This will be the new date for all future application cycle.
  • An easier approach to pulling tax info: Families will now be able to fill out the FAFSA using tax information from two years prior to the aid year they’re applying for. This means students applying for the 2017–2018 year will be able to use their parents’ tax information from 2015. Families will also be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool from the get-go to help fill in relevant tax information, which the federal government hopes will simplify the process overall.
Below is a table displaying the changes and revised deadlines for submitting the FAFSA.

In Kentucky, state financial aid programs are primarily funded through lottery proceeds.  The two main need-based aid programs require a FAFSA and are funded on a first-come, first-serve basis.

  • The College Access Program (CAP) provides up to $1,900 annually for undergraduate students to attend eligible public and private colleges and universities, proprietary schools and technical colleges.
  • The Kentucky Tuition Grant (KTG) provides up to $3,000 annually for aid to help Kentucky residents attend in-state eligible private colleges.
In recent years - according to KHEAA - roughly 70% of public high school graduates in Kentucky have filled out the FAFSA.  But those who do not miss out on the opportunity to access a more affordable postsecondary education.  According to one recent analysis, Kentucky students potentially missed out on $35 million in federal Pell grants in 2014 by not completing the FAFSA.
The U.S. Department of Education has a new data tool that allows students, families and school administrators to track in real time the FAFSA completions in their high schools and school districts.  Below is the completion rate map for Kentucky for the 2016-17 FAFSA cycle as of October 14 - the most recent data available.  This tool can help inform school and community leaders about how their outreach efforts are succeeding.
More resources to help guide students and their families through the FAFSA process are available from KHEAA and the U.S. Department of Education.  For a student's perspective on the FAFSA, check out the KnowHow2GoKY public service announcements and videos produced by the Prichard Committee's Student Voice Team in partnership with GEAR-UP and the Kentucky College and Career Connection Coalition.

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Updates and data on Kentucky education!