Education groups in Kentucky are launching an information campaign this month calling on students to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA form. Filling out the form is a crucial step to receive need-based aid that you don’t pay back and other financial assistance.
In addition to the federal Pell grant, the FAFSA is required for three of Kentucky’s popular need-based aid programs--the College Access Program (CAP) Grant, the Kentucky Tuition Grant (KTG) and the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship, which helps cover tuition and fees for adults who have not yet earned an associate degree.
As of Jan. 22, Kentucky has outperformed most other states, ranking 12th for FAFSA completions nationally. However, submissions are down 19% among Kentucky high school seniors, according to the Form Your Future website. The overall percentage of FAFSA filers, which includes high school seniors, current college students and adults, shows a 13% drop over this time last year, according to the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA).
These declines in FAFSA submissions raise alarms that students are not taking the proactive steps to prepare for college as Kentucky recovers from COVID-19.
The campaign, called FAFSA February, is aiming to reverse that trend and coincides with the national Financial Aid Awareness Month. It will focus on promoting FAFSA completion through social media and other news and information platforms.
“Whether you are a high school senior or an adult trying to gain skills for employment, I encourage you to fill out the FAFSA form in February because it is often required as a first step to getting other types of financial aid,” said Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who is also the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet secretary.
“Even if you are unsure of your future plans, there is no downside to filling out the form to see what financial aid you can get. While the next semester seems like a long time from now, it is not. That’s why you need to prepare for higher education and how to pay for school now to be sure you are ready to take advantage of education opportunities when they come,” she added.
President Aaron Thompson, head of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), said the FAFSA process helps empower students and families with vital information about financial opportunities at colleges across the state. That’s especially important as Kentucky campuses look beyond the pandemic and employers seek out the next round of talent coming out of college.
“We know that many families are still struggling with hardships and uncertainties from COVID-19, but now is the time for every Kentuckian to begin plotting a path forward,” Thompson said. “The FAFSA process is a simple tool that will allow students to make informed, confident decisions about their future and seize on the opportunities of a better tomorrow.”
Campaign partners include the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities, CPE, the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, KHEAA and the Kentucky Department of Education, along with GEAR UP Kentucky and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.
“KHEAA’s mission is to make postsecondary education attainable for all Kentuckians,” said Gene Hutchins, the group’s executive director and CEO. “Focusing on affordability is one of the best ways we can do that, and completing the FAFSA is an essential step for students to access the financial aid resources that will make college affordable. I urge anyone considering attending college next academic year to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible.”
Jason E. Glass, commissioner of education and chief learner, emphasized the need for students to think ahead about finances.
“We know the vast majority of our students will need some kind of training beyond high school,” Glass said. “Finding ways to pay for that education can be scary to think about. Filling out the FAFSA, which can help you qualify for aid that you don’t have to pay back, is a good place to start.
“Students also should consider multiple ways of paying for higher education, including working while going to school, saving up the necessary funds or examining the affordability of the wide array of higher education options that Kentucky offers. Higher education can be within reach for all of our students,” he added.
Students can apply for aid by visiting https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa, which offers instructions for submitting a form electronically or by mail along with other details about the process.
Applicants can also receive help from a KHEAA outreach counselor by visiting KHEAA’s website: https://www.kheaa.com/website/kheaa/counselors?main=6. Counselors are available in every region of the state.
The U.S. Department of Education distributes more than $120 billion in federal grants, loans and work-study funds each year to help students pay for college or vocational training. The applications are also instrumental in obtaining assistance from the state along with postsecondary institutions.
Kentucky students received more than $372.7 million in federal Pell grants last year, and KHEAA distributed more than $272 million in grants and scholarships. Most of the funds were allocated based on FAFSA data.
The Council on Postsecondary Education is leading efforts to get more Kentuckians more highly educated. By 2030, at least 60% of working-age adults in Kentucky will need to have earned a postsecondary education degree or credential to meet expected workforce demands.