School Monetary Assist Purposes Drop in 2020

Many high schools switched to virtual learning and put traditional Fafsa briefings online during the pandemic. However, the Fafsa asks for a lot of detailed information, and while general counseling sessions are a start, according to help experts, students often need personal help to fill out the form.

Economy & Economy

Updated

Dec. Dec. 18, 2020 at 8:46 am ET

The pandemic and the move to virtual learning added to the challenge of helping students fill out the form, said Nathan J. Daun-Barnett, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Education at New York State University at Buffalo and an expert on College access. The university is partnering with Say Yes Buffalo, a local nonprofit group, and schools in the area on a Fafsa graduation project that recruits PhD students as paid interns to work one-on-one with students to fill out the Fafsa and related documents.

Before the pandemic, the interns would have met individually with students from the local high schools to fill out the forms. Now students can schedule virtual visits with 42 interns, but sometimes the technology can be a challenge. For example, there have been cases where a student tries to complete the Fafsa from home on a mobile phone while talking to the intern on the same phone at the same time. “It’s not an optimal way to complete the process,” he said.

Advisors to Buffalo Leonardo da Vinci High School, recognized for their efforts to get students to complete the Fafsa, say this year has been a challenge as their students have been studying remotely since April. But they said the university interns are a great help.

Cheryl Shul, one of the school’s two counselors, said they could usually just pull the students out of class if needed and let them work on the form. This year, she and her colleague are relying even more heavily on phone calls, reminder apps, texts, and emails to keep students moving. “We’re good at tracking them,” she said.

Consultants also had to be flexible about the normal boundaries of the working day. Last year, Ms. Shul said, she may not have responded to a text from a student with a Fafsa question late that night. But this year she usually answers, knowing that if you wait until the next day it can be more difficult to reach the student.

Schools looking for ideas to reach out to students can visit the performance network website which has a guide on completing Fafsa.

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