Free Money for Fast and Focused Students
By Dianne Anderson
Wherever tens of thousands of dollars of free money are up for grabs, smart students are thinking way ahead of the curve.
Now is the time to go for it.
Sooner rather than later is the mantra for getting Black and Brown students in the door of higher education for Fall of 2022.
Yet $3.4 billion financial aid is left on the table each year, mostly by low-income first-generation students of color, according to a recent study by the Education Strategy Group.
The study finds that students of color are significantly less likely to complete the FAFSA, with 34 percent of Hispanic students and 26 percent of African-American students have not completed the FAFSA, compared to just 18 percent of white students.
Dr. Loretta Jordan is not surprised at the major chasm between students of color and access to those FAFSA dollars, but she said there are several ways to close the gap toward educational pathways.
First and foremost is meeting the deadline.
“FAFSA is based on income, but the lack of knowledge of how to complete the FASFA and meet the deadline is the biggest villain to these populations,” she said.
Most Black and Brown students qualify for FAFSA. Colleges and universities vary on their individual deadlines for admission, but she said all students should check out www.studentaid.gov website to get full access to numerous resources and deadlines.
Studentaid.gov recommends filing FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1 for the 2022 school year.
“From what I’m hearing, the financial burden is one of the [main] barriers for people of color and underrepresented populations to gain access to higher education,” said Jordan, associate dean of Student Development at Rancho Santiago Community College District.
Other barriers, especially first-generation students typically don’t have anyone in their social or family circles who have been through the process to show them the way to higher education pathways.
But she feels most important thing for all students to know is to be tenacious and power forward on their goals.
“Stay the course because this is the entryway so students won’t have to be stressed by their financials and their need to maintain their enrollment. All they need to focus on is their coursework,” she said.
At Long Beach City College, Dr. Nohel Corral is smoothing the way for high school seniors and transfer students.
He said the campus matriculation office, the first-year experience, the welcome center, and other early college initiatives are all in place to help students complete their goals. The campus targets those most impacted, providing step by step help with the process for first-generation students of color.
“This includes a robust team of outreach and recruitment specialists and success coaches that walk incoming students through the onboarding process, including financial aid assistance to help complete their FAFSA, and provide progress monitoring,” said Dr. Corral, Interim Vice President of Student Services at Long Beach City College
He said their Male Success Initiative is designed to serve young men of color, and remove barriers. The program keeps them up on looming deadlines, provides individualized help with registration and financial aid applications.
The Umoja Program is another long-standing outreach effort. Black students have access to regular workshops. Financial advisors who are available for follow-up for any students needing extra help, including scholarships directly to HBCUs.
Depending on pending COVID-19 guidelines, a field trip is expected to bring students to the National College Resource Foundation Black College Expo next February.
Now with so many people financially negatively impacted through the pandemic, students may not be quite ready to handle any residual tuition costs.
Even there, the campus is willing to work with students in need.
“In the event that a change of income has happened with the student and, or, their family, we do process appeals that will adjust their stated income figures on their FAFSAs to get a more realistic picture of what their situation currently is. This will allow most students to be re-processed and become eligible for more assistance to help them covers their educational costs,” he said.
When it comes to giving away free money in the Inland Empire, along with strides toward diversity, UC Riverside holds first place.
The university cites Washington Monthly’s recent ranking with federal data showing that the campus had the second most Pell Grant students in the country, at 1,675.
“UC Riverside is the No. 1 university in the nation for Pell Grant performance. The measure considers how many low-income students a university serves compared with statewide earnings,” the statement reports, adding, “UCR’s Pell Grant students actually graduate at a higher rate than non-Pell students, 77% to 76%, according to the most recent federal data available.”
The university also notes that graduation rates are almost near parity for underrepresented students including Black, Latino, American Indian and Pacific Islanders. Nationally, 44.3% of Black students; 57.8% of Latino students; 40.8% of American Indian students and 53.3% of Pacific Islander students graduated in six years.
“UCR is within the top 15% of institutions in the United States in terms of its overall graduation rate, and is especially strong at graduating students of diverse backgrounds at near parity,” said Scott Heil, UCR’s assistant vice chancellor for Institutional Research. “Other universities looking to raise the graduation rates of their underrepresented students could do well to follow UCR’s lead.”
To learn more about all deadlines for FAFSA and application deadlines for all colleges, see https://studentaid.gov/
At Cal State University, San Bernardino, applications for fall 2022 will be accepted from October 1 through November 30. All applications must be submitted before Midnight on November 30, according to the website.
For financial aid at CSUSB, see https://www.csusb.edu/financial-aid/current-students/grants/undergraduate-students