Families are faced with new scenarios this fall, including how to safely continue their education. Distance learning, while not necessarily new to higher education, has become more of an expectation for college students during the pandemic. The world around us continues to change, demanding us to innovate and adapt. I’m heartened to see so many embrace these changes, including today’s college students.
Yes, many colleges and universities have reversed course or changed plans for on-campus instruction. Students and families, however, are determined to continue their education because the value of higher education is as strong as ever. According to a recent report by The New York Federal Reserve, updated unemployment figures show the rate for college graduates is a fraction of that of the general population.
That said, families are concerned, and rightly so, about the affordability of college due to the pandemic. While more families were able to rely on their income and savings to pay for college last year, given the dramatic shifts in the economy, families may need to turn to other resources for college this year.
That brings us to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Available October 1, the FAFSA is the gateway to more than $150 billion in grants, college scholarships, and federal financial aid. Unfortunately, a majority of college-going families wait until January or later to file – potentially missing out on thousands of dollars in first-come, first-served aid – and nearly a third skipped the FAFSA altogether. Additionally, 61% of families are unaware that the FAFSA becomes available on October 1. What’s more, low-income families – those most likely to qualify for the most aid – were the least likely to complete it. The most frequently cited reasons for not filing the FAFSA: they didn’t think they’d qualify, and it’s too complicated.
It is on all of us to raise awareness about the importance of completing the FAFSA because no student or family should pay more for their education than necessary. At Sallie Mae, we are developing resources to assist students and families, particularly those who otherwise would not be able to afford higher education. In fact, we’re working with Embark to provide a free tool that reduces the average time it takes to complete the FAFSA. We also continue to offer students and families free access to our Scholarship Search Tool, which is home to more than 6 million college scholarships worth more than $30 billion. In partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, we are also launching a new scholarship program to promote diversity in higher education and help more minority and underserved students graduate.
Students and families are determined to continue on their path to higher education. Let’s do our part to ensure no obstacle, large or small, gets in the way of achieving that dream.