A statewide outreach campaign is underway to connect high school graduates with financial aid.
An unprecedented school year is soon coming to a close for most Oregon high schools, and many seniors are eager to receive their diploma. But before they leave, advisors and state agencies are making one more push to promote applying for financial aid by completing the FAFSA or ORSAA.
Completion Need & Response
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the Oregon Student Aid Application (ORSAA) is a key step in qualifying for postsecondary financial aid. State and federal aid programs award grants to students based on these applications, and institutions use them to determine their own aid packages to students. Completing one of these applications significantly increases the odds that a student will enroll in college or a career program.
Unfortunately Oregon is experiencing a 13 percent decline in FAFSA completions among high school seniors, with harsher declines among students of color, students in rural areas, and students experiencing poverty. These low submission rates among the high school Class of 2021 may mean that many of these students miss out on higher education opportunities, and as a result limit their career trajectories.
The Office of Student Access and Completion (OSAC), an office of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC), promotes FAFSA and ORSAA completion across Oregon each year, and has secured extra resources to overcome this year’s unique obstacles. OSAC was recently awarded $50,000 via the Kresge/NCAN Supporting Postsecondary Enrollment During the COVID Era: FAFSA Completion Project. This funding is helping OSAC collaborate more closely with high school staff, community-based organizations, and college access programs statewide to further promote higher education opportunities.
These grant-backed efforts have already begun and will continue throughout the spring and summer. This includes expanded outreach to rural sites, youth corrections sites, foster youth, and areas where less than half of high school seniors have completed their FAFSA or ORSAA.
State and Local Resources Collaborating
One partner that OSAC is working with is the Pre-College TRIO program at Clatsop Community College. The program works with more than 700 middle and high school students in four Clatsop County school districts. Many of these students would be first-generation college students and/or come from low-income households. The program’s director John Graves embeds FAFSA/ORSAA completion into the core of planning for life after high school.
“Our office strives for a 85% FAFSA completion for our low-income and potential first generation college students,” Graves said. “I am not sure we will achieve this goal this year due to COVID, but we are pushing for it.”
The push for understanding and securing financial aid begins during students’ freshman year in the TRIO program, but now is the time for seniors to follow through and submit their applications. Without the standard in-person support a normal year would provide, pre-college programs across the state are finding any way they can to get their message across to students.
OSAC is using its new grant funding to support these local efforts by providing:
- Incentives for high school seniors who submit their FAFSA or ORSAA (gift cards and scholarship awards);
- Financial incentives for sites that share successful completion strategies or see significant completion improvement over the grant period;
- FAFSA/ORSAA support materials for students and families in additional languages;
- Advanced training for partner sites, as well as recruiting more schools to join the ASPIRE and/or FAFSA Plus+ programs; and
- A digital outreach campaign aimed at 2020 and 2021 high school seniors to support their transition to life after high school.
The work of OSAC and pre-college programs is to encourage students to strive higher and then help them reach those aspirations. And Clatsop’s Pre-College TRIO programs (Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound) have proof of the immense impact these efforts can have.
Impact of Student Support
Thomas Atwood is the oldest child from an eight person household in Warrenton, Oregon. Always pressed for space and resources, he sought out every opportunity to improve his life. Thomas enrolled in Talent Search as a sixth-grader and Upward Bound as a high school sophomore. He wanted to use every resource at his disposal to help maximize his academic potential and plan for college.
Thomas was always an excellent student and had hopes of attending college with little to no debt. Seeing his talent and potential, TRIO helped Thomas broaden his horizons and encouraged him to apply to some of the nation’s most prestigious universities. Thomas was subsequently offered full-ride scholarships to both Yale and Princeton, ultimately enrolling at Princeton as an engineering student this past fall.
“TRIO helped put me on the path toward a life I never dreamed was possible,” said Thomas. “They believe in you, and that faith makes it easier to believe in yourself.”
Callie Sheker-Grothe, another alum of the TRIO program, signed up for Talent Search her junior year. She always put a strong focus on her education and her future college plans. Her motivation was rooted in pursuing financial stability, something she did not have growing up. Callie experienced poverty, the changes from parental divorce, premature death of loved ones, and the challenges of some of those close to her suffering from addiction.
Callie also channeled her motivation into serving her community. She volunteered at a local wildlife agency, belonged to numerous school organizations, and worked many hours a week to help support her family. The TRIO program was well aware of Callie’s incredible resiliency and sought to provide her as much support as possible.
“Talent Search helped me with college and scholarship applications; they gave me the confidence boost that I will succeed!” said Callie. “Also, knowing that my adviser was always available to talk to really helped get through the stress of finishing high school and starting at college.”
A member of the Class of 2017, Callie graduated magna cum laude from Astoria High School. She was awarded nine scholarships totaling $28,000 and enrolled at Eastern Oregon University to study Natural Resources for Fish and Wildlife Conservation.
These stories are just a snapshot of what pre-college support can mean to an individual’s life. OSAC and its partners want to ensure that every student has the knowledge and support to pursue their education goals and dreams.
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