By Jaclyn Piñero, CEO
on May 27, 2021
This spring and summer engaging first-generation college students and those from low-income backgrounds is critical to prevent their college plans from being derailed by the pandemic’s after-effects. At uAspire, we’re pushing hard to act quickly and create new partnerships and initiatives that reach the most underrepresented students in the high school class of 2021.
An immediate focus is increasing FAFSA completion. As of May 14, less than half of the class of 2021 had completed a FAFSA, a drop of 5.5 percent compared to last year. At Title I eligible high schools and high-minority high schools, FAFSA completions are down 7.6 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively. This is especially troubling as students in the lowest income brackets who complete the FAFSA are more than twice as likely to enroll in college than their peers who don’t file.
Through strategic partnerships with community-based organizations, school districts, and higher ed institutions, we’re strengthening local systems and communities to help students secure every dollar of financial aid that they are eligible for. Given the barriers students face completing the FAFSA—lack of parental experience, difficulty acquiring tax information, and income changes due to job loss to name just a few—we're equipping partners with our unique expertise so they can provide accurate information and consistent, student-centered guidance.
Please keep reading for highlights of our recent partnerships across the country. Building upon our long-standing history, our learnings from this work will help us grow to meet the evolving needs of our students and position uAspire as the unifying voice in the college affordability ecosystem.
As we rebuild, sustainable, strategic partnerships are necessary to drive structural changes so that the classes of 2022, 2023, and beyond can equitably access college degrees—a critical cornerstone to our country’s post-pandemic economic recovery.
With the federal changes in college cost communication introduced in Congress last month and the stimulus funding announced in March, we are presented with an important opportunity to work together to create the world we’ve always envisioned together, one where every young person can reach their full potential.
Meeting Students Where They Are
As part of the statewide FAFSA completion campaign launched by the State of Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, uAspire is providing critical, accessible support and resources to high school seniors in nine prioritized school districts. Students simply text “hello” to uAspire’s FAFSA Help Center and an advisor helps them complete the FAFSA over text, Zoom, or phone call. Additionally, we’re hosting virtual FAFSA events for students and families, FAFSA webinars for school counselors, and disseminating resources to high schools.
Training Across the State
To support the class of 2021 now and future classes required to fill out the FAFSA or TASFA to graduate starting next year, uAspire partnered with the Texas College Access Network (TxCAN) and Texas OnCourse to provide our online training to school counselors and college access providers. By aligning efforts across the state, we can ensure practitioners have the knowledge and skills to support students to accurately complete their applications, keep their options open, and stay on track to a postsecondary degree.
Student-centered Systems Change
The University of California Office of the President (UCOP) and nine UC campuses are partnering with uAspire to improve the communication of college costs to students on their websites and financial aid offer. We conducted seven focus groups with undergraduate students and financial aid administrators across nine campuses, and are delivering custom recommendations based on those findings alongside our research, Beyond the College Bill and Decoding the Cost of College. We’re excited to see changes at the systems and campus levels in the year to come.
Strengthening Local Support
Our new partner, Propel America, a network of regional organizations creating career pathways from education to growing occupations, wanted to strengthen their student support during and after the FAFSA. To this end, we’re training Propel’s Louisiana program directors on Student Aid Report review and verification, hosting a virtual verification workshop for students, and offering one-on-one FAFSA appointments with uAspire advisors.