Encouraging high school students to fill out FAFSA forms

Feb 20, 2019

Filling out college financial aid forms can be a daunting task for students and families. But it is key in gaining needed assistance, especially for low-income families. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says the Buffalo Public School District collaborates to make sure it's accomplished.   

In 2016 students WBFO visited a College Success Center at Bennett where students get help with FAFSA. Now there are seven centers in the district.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

"It's something that's unusual with most families, particular of families who are first generation college attenders,” said Eric Rosser, associate superintendent, Student Support Services, Buffalo Public Schools.

The Education Trust New York released some new numbers. It found that DaVinci High School in Buffalo has actually has a 68-percent complication rate of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid known as FAFSA. That's one of the highest in the region among schools where at least 40-percent of students are low-income.

Inside DaVinci High School in Buffalo.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

Rosser tells WBFO News the school has a great counseling team makes sure students complete the process.

“It’s not to say that we don’t have fabulous counselors at our other schools, but we do have two fabulous counselors over at DaVinci, who have really been focused on making sure that our students and our parents are made aware of this project – more specifically the FAFSA completion form as well as also making sure that all of our families are signing up for TAP, which is the New York State Tuition Assistance Program,” Rosser explained.  

The city school district starting teaming with the University at Buffalo and Say Yes back in 2015 to make sure families are able to navigate through the financial aid applications. Since then, Say Yes reports the completion process nearly doubled. There are now seven college success centers set up in city schools. 

Back in 2016 Nathan Daun-Barnett, UB, who serves director of the FAFSA Completion project, helped students with their forms.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

“And one of the challenges that we run into – probably the biggest one is that it’s difficult to document poverty at least in terms of forms like FAFSA,” remarked Nathan Daun-Barnett, University at Buffalo, who serves director of the FAFSA Completion project.

“Try to document that you don’t have income or that you live on Social Security Disability, Food Stamps and those sorts of things or that you are independent from your family because of whatever circumstances have come up – you’ve been homeless or you’ve been in foster care,” noted Daun-Barnett.

In 2016, WBFO visited one of the College Success Centers at Bennett High School. At the time it was one of just two established by UB. 

According to recent research by NerdWallet, students in New York miss out on about $152-million federal financial aid by failing to file those forms and that doesn't include the state's Excelsior Scholarships or the State's Tuition Assistant Program (TAP).

The Education Trust New York has issued a challenge, encouraging more high school students to complete the financial application process.