/College financial aid applications in Mississippi trail most states as coronavirus pandemic persists

College financial aid applications in Mississippi trail most states as coronavirus pandemic persists

Nonprofit Mississippi News On March 13, the number of federal student aid applications for Mississippi began to drop. This was around the time that Mississippi schools were closing due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Ann Hendrick, the director of Get2College (a Woodward Hines Education Foundation program that assists students in college planning), said, “We were devastated.” The Get2College program helps students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) which is considered a “first step” to paying for college. Leaders of the program were forced to cancel 20 events designed to assist students in completing the FAFSA. Others foundational institutions that help students get financial aid also quickly closed. “Community colleges were closing. They offer FAFSA Fridays. They were very helpful in helping us at school. Teachers keep students on track. Counselors help students stay on track. Hendrick stated that it was clear that students were losing all their resources. The state’s FAFSA compliance rate is 8.2 percent as of May 8, according to the most recent data. Comparatively, the national FAFSA completion rate is down by 3.1%. Alabama’s FAFSA completion rates are down by 3.2 percent. Title I schools in Mississippi are down 11.3 percent. This means that students with the greatest financial need are having the hardest time getting financial aid. This will prevent college students in Mississippi from receiving federal financial aid. It will also reduce the chances that they will start their higher education in fall. Tuition in Mississippi alone is around $8,300. The fact that Mississippi had the third highest FAFSA completion rate last year can partly explain this decline. Only Louisiana and Tennessee had higher FAFSA completion rates than Mississippi. This makes them the only states that require students to complete the FAFSA to be eligible to receive the HOPE scholarship. The scholarship provides financial aid to high school graduates in the state. Bill DeBaun (Director of Data and Evaluation, National College Attainment Network), said that Mississippi’s poor ranking in year-over-year rankings is due to its strong year last year. Hendrick stated that Mississippi’s FAFSA completion numbers were more or less the same as last year before COVID-19. She said that although we were slightly down, it was not a significant drop. The gap in Mississippi is growing, if you take a look at the numbers. It began on March 13, and it continues to grow.” There are many reasons students don’t complete the FAFSA. The issue highlights part of Mississippi’s digital gap, which is a term that refers to the fact that many people don’t have access to basic technology or reliable Internet access. Tori Langworthy is Get2College’s assistant director of outreach. She spends a lot of her time helping students in Mississippi Delta who lack reliable Internet access. Her students are now completing the FAFSA using data instead of Internet access, which means that she is unable to complete the work she was able to do in an hour. Students have to call back to cancel their calls or buy additional data. This can cause the process to get slowed down. “I have been working on a FAFSA for two weeks with one student because she will call me and then she’ll phone and we’ll talk for another. She’ll respond, “OK, let me get back with you.” It’s been two weeks since I got the information. It’s not possible to go to the tax office. There is no computer that can pull up your taxes. Langworthy stated that if there is a barrier, they have it. Because they started work immediately after the pandemic, some students don’t complete the FAFSA. Some students are first-generation college graduates and have no one to help them. Others can’t access the IRS tax information they need because of tax process and stimulus check distributions. Langworthy stated that 2020 FAFSA is deducted from 2018 taxes. This means that if a family has suffered a significant loss of income due to layoffs, it won’t be reflected on their FAFSA forms. Individual higher education institutions will work with families affected by this to adjust their financial aid. Jennifer Jackson Hall, Ray Brooks School counselor in Benoit said that most seniors had completed their FAFSAs prior to the pandemic. Because they don’t own a printer, some people who want to apply for funding to pay for summer school run into problems with IRS verification. Jackson Hall stated that although they may have access to the Internet or other electronic devices, Jackson Hall explained that they are unable to print the forms or scan them and send them back. This reduction in student financial aid access has obvious consequences for college enrollment in fall, particularly for students with low incomes. TJ Walker, director of Get2College’s North Mississippi branch, stated that “It will encourage them to shun the idea of higher education because they’re unable to complete their FAFSA. They’re not getting funds for college.” People are panicking because they lack money. So maybe students are working at Fred’s, or at the gas station. The check comes every two weeks. It’s the largest amount of money they have ever earned in their lives. They believe that it’s an upgrade. However, some students may choose to stay there for good and never consider college. The current FAFSA completion outlook is grim, but there are still silver linings. The deadline for next year’s FAFSA can be completed by students as late as June 30, 2021. DeBaun stated that Mississippi saw a late bounce in FAFSA completion last year, and that it is possible that this could happen again. Walker, Hendrick, and Langworthy offer free college planning services to anyone who asks. Jackson Hall continues to assist her students in finding ways to overcome FAFSA submission challenges. For students who need to write financial hardship letters, companies like FormSwift offer free templates. Hendrick stated that “We have the time to turn it around.” “A drop in FAFSA completion does not mean that they can’t get back on track. We could see those numbers move forward.” So the message is that students need to start acting now as if everything will improve so that they are ready for when they do._x000D