Student Financial Aid Assistance and Action in Miami-Dade
February 6-12, 2011 has been designated Financial Aid Awareness Week in Miami-Dade County and in a number of other communities around the U.S. Catalyst Miami (formerly the Human Services Coalition) is helping to lead this initiative, which is part of Financial Aid U, a national effort to provide low-income students and their families with the information and assistance that they need to access financial aid resources to help them pay for college.
Now in its third year, Financial Aid U, run by the National Community Tax Coalition (NCTC) with support from the Citi Foundation, has assisted students in receiving $10.7 million in federal assistance and an additional $4.3 million in low-interest student loans in order to enable them to afford post-secondary education. This year Financial Aid U has expanded to 10 of the largest markets in the United States.
Studies have shown that higher education consistently leads to higher levels of employment and wages for graduates of two - to four-year colleges compared to high school graduates. Among full-time workers, students graduating with a four-year degree earn 74 percent more than high school graduates.
Even in this time of high unemployment, companies are struggling to find the qualified and trained workers that they need, which is one of the reasons that President Obama has made college completion for more Americans a priority for America to remain competitive in the global marketplace.
However, this bridge to financial stability is beyond the reach of low-income high school graduates and older students who lack awareness of and access to federal, state and institutional aid programs to pay for the growing cost of college.
In the past five years, college costs have increased by almost 40 percent. According to the College Board, a coalition of higher education institutions across the country, public and private institutions raised tuition in 2009 at an average rate of 6.5 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively. These increases in college costs far exceeded the one percent growth in median family income from 2008-2009.
But there is help available and Catalyst Miami's Prosperity Campaign is providing help county-wide. The first step is for prospective students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Financial Aid, or FAFSA, form. The FAFSA is a complex document that often keeps students who most need this funding from receiving it. Yet students who fill out the FAFSA form are 50 percent more likely to attend college.
Most of the information to complete the FAFSA comes from the student's or his or her parents' income tax returns. Fortunately, our financial coaches at Catalyst Miami's Prosperity Campaign have been assisting low-income individuals file their income tax returns for nine years. We are now using that information to help our clients complete the FAFSA as early as possible in the year as some federal and state financial aid is allotted on a first come, first served basis.
This week we will provide services at sites throughout Miami-Dade in partnership with local government agencies, Miami Dade College and a network of area nonprofits. We are also part of the College Goal Sunday on February 20 with six locations throughout the County.
This is the time for our elected leaders, community-based organizations, schools and government agencies to come together and raise awareness about the financial aid support services that are already in place. Working together, we can help give students and families the assistance they need to attain college degrees for a brighter future for themselves, our state and our country. Visit our website to learn about ways you can help: www.catalystmiami.org and www.prosperitycampaign.org