CHICAGO — As students nationwide struggle with distance learning and college plans seem more on hold than ever, there’s good news in Illinois.
Illinois ended the year ranking first among states in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the form most students use to apply for federal and state financial aid. for post-secondary education.
Helping to ensure that more Illinois students have the funds to pursue a path to education after high school has become increasingly difficult amid a pandemic that is testing all aspects of our daily life.
To address some of the pandemic-related challenges high schools and senior graduates face in completing financial aid applications for next fall, the Illinois Student Aid Commission (ISAC) is adding new initiatives to its college outreach programs.
From targeted outreach and one-on-one assistance to students and families, to online financial aid modules that teachers can use with their students, the state college access and financial aid agency is committed to providing free statewide supports to students and schools.
“With many students and families dealing with illness and loss of loved ones, financial hardship, and all the challenges of remote learning, it can be difficult to manage the present, let alone look to the future,” said Eric Zarnikow, ISAC Executive Director. “But as we look to brighter days for next fall, we want to make sure our high school and adult students have applied for and can receive the financial aid they are eligible for. Knowing what funding you have available for post-secondary education is an important step in making that education a reality.
Indeed, ensuring students have this important information led to the adoption of the state’s FAFSA mandate.
This new law, which took effect with the 2020-2021 school year, requires public high school students to complete the FAFSA or, if eligible, the Illinois Alternative Financial Aid Application, as a prerequisite to obtaining a high school diploma. (A waiver provision allows a parent, guardian, or the student – if 18 or emancipated – to opt out of the requirement.)
Integrating preparing to apply for financial aid with high school graduation can increase the number of students who are aware of the resources available to help them pay for education or training after high school.
This information can also help some students decide to try college when they might not otherwise have done so, and it can help some students limit student loan debt and keep up with a course load. more complete to obtain a diploma or title more quickly.
Although ISAC already offers free workshops on college planning and financial aid, as well as one-on-one student assistance during the annual College Changes Everything (CCE) fall campaign and throughout the he year, the agency expands its reach and support to help overcome many obstacles. for students created by the COVID-19 pandemic and to meet the state’s new FAFSA mandate.
ISAC has held more than 750 online financial aid workshops with school partners, as well as 13 statewide virtual financial aid completion workshops since September 2020, with more planned for 2021 As high schools focus their efforts on remote learning and maintaining student contact, ISAC is reaching out directly to schools that have already participated in the CCE campaign and is offering the following free supports statewide. :
• One-on-one assistance to students and parents in completing financial aid applications, via web conference, phone, text or email. Contact your local ISACorps member for free assistance: studentportal.isac.org/isacorps. Sign up for ISAC’s free texting app to get answers to questions about financial or college aid via text message: isac.org/collegeqa.
• ISAC FAFSA completion initiative and direct student outreach. ISAC’s FAFSA Completion Initiative provides Illinois school districts with a way to identify students who have not submitted a FAFSA or alternative application. Application completion information — updated on a weekly basis — can be used by District Advisors to help reach students who may need assistance or encouragement in completing an application. To support busy school counselors and with school permission, ISAC may directly contact and assist students who have not completed a FAFSA. Learn more about https://www.isac.org/home/fafsa/index.html
• Financial aid e-learning module for classrooms. ISAC is developing an e-learning module that schools can use as part of their distance learning program, which includes a video and a learning pack.
• QR code for student and family outreach. To improve student and family awareness during the pandemic, ISAC will introduce a QR code that links to easy and accessible information for students and families on how to get free help with financial aid applications. . ISAC is partnering with several schools to pilot a program that will put stickers with this QR code on free and discounted lunch boxes and printed learning materials. Students and families will be able to scan the QR code with their phone to access the information.
“We want to make sure that every high school student and adult student in Illinois knows that completing an application for financial aid is a critical step in their future,” said Jacqueline Moreno, ISAC director, College Access and Outreach. “We can help make the application process fairly quick and easy for most students.”
ISACorps members are available statewide and offer free assistance to help students and families complete and submit an application. Find your ISACorps member on studentportal.isac.org/isacorps.