New York Metropolis’s all-hands push to spice up FAFSA completion


Effectively earlier than New York governor Kathy Hochul declared April “Monetary Help Consciousness Month,” Kristen Harris was taking an all-hands-on-deck strategy to enhancing her metropolis’s monetary support type submission fee.

Harris, the manager director of school and profession planning for New York Metropolis Public Faculties, stated that when delays and type points started swirling after the bungled rollout of the brand new Free Software for Federal Scholar Help this spring, she knew the town’s excessive colleges would wish greater than their workers counselors to make sure college students didn’t get left behind within the confusion.

To this point, the numbers don’t look good. Completions are down 24 % in New York state as of March 29, in keeping with knowledge from the Nationwide Faculty Attainment Community. Within the metropolis itself, they’re down from 35,500 final 12 months to 19,500 this 12 months, a decline of greater than 45 %, in keeping with estimates supplied by NCAN—steeper than in any U.S. state.

So Harris marshaled the town’s vital assets, leveraging partnerships with the general public faculties and advocacy teams which have stewarded postsecondary pathways for many years.

“We now have a tradition of collaboration on this metropolis, and we’re leaning in to that ecosystem,” she stated. “That’s how we’re going to fill the hole.”

Harris’s FAFSA fire-fighting machine contains the New York Public Library system, which has been internet hosting late-night FAFSA completion periods for the previous month, and The Metropolis College of New York, which is sending already-strapped monetary support officers to advise excessive colleges.

“This course of—serving to college students get to school, determining the way to pay for it—is all the time tense, however the FAFSA mess has actually exacerbated that,” Harris stated. “The response each from college students and workers is that it’s irritating, and it’s onerous, and having an additional layer of assist has been an enormous assist.”

Working ‘FAST’

CUNY can be leveraging its most considerable useful resource in service of the completion effort: present faculty college students. The college system’s peer counseling program already locations dozens of its college students in part- and full-time assistant counselor roles in excessive colleges across the metropolis, serving to over 55,000 highschool college students.

This week the college additionally launched a Monetary Help Help Group, or FAST, to focus particularly on mounting FAFSA difficulties. Members will handle FAFSA drop-in facilities in libraries, shelters and different public areas across the metropolis for the following month—or nonetheless lengthy it takes to get college students the help they want.

Crystal Luna Serrano, a senior at CUNY’s John Jay Faculty of Legal Justice in Manhattan, has been working 15 hours every week as a highschool counseling assistant all 12 months. She started her second job as a FAST coach on Wednesday, and stated she’s keen to assist college students from different excessive colleges within the metropolis. If what she’s seen at her small constitution college is any indication, her assistance is desperately wanted.

“It’s taken up the vast majority of my time this spring, and it’s actually upsetting for college kids,” she stated. “They’re coming into my workplace each week with new issues … I ponder, what would occur if I wasn’t right here?”

It’s not simply FAFSA submissions which can be bogging college students down. Many candidates who did submit have obtained messages flagging points with their types, or asking them to make some particular change they don’t perceive. That tracks with the most recent schooling division knowledge launched Wednesday morning exhibiting that as much as 16 % of the 7 million types submitted to date will want corrections—which college students received’t have the ability to make till early subsequent week.

Laura Myers, CUNY’s assistant dean of K16 initiatives, oversees the FAFSA completion effort. She stated setting college students within the Ok-12 system on the trail to postsecondary alternatives has all the time been a central a part of her job—and the general public college system’s mission—and this 12 months the brand new FAFSA is the largest potential barrier to school for the town’s low-income college students.

“We’ve been doing this work to assist faculty and profession readiness for a few years now, however this 12 months we’re actually having to double down on the FAFSA,” she stated. “Usually within the spring we’re beginning to work with juniors, however as a substitute you’re caught ensuring that the seniors are getting the assist that they want as a result of they’re actually stalled within the monetary support course of. So we needed to beef up that assist.”

Myers’ job technically falls underneath the college’s enrollment administration workplace, reflecting the truth that for CUNY—as for a lot of establishments serving primarily low-income college students—the FAFSA completion disaster is additionally an enrollment challenge.

“We’re going to be working with college students whether or not or not they will CUNY. All of our applications are supporting college students no matter their path could also be,” she stated. “However after all, lots of them do select CUNY … so we’ll need to see how enrollment fluctuates this 12 months.”

A Chopped Cheese and Some Scholar Help

Harris and her staff have been working to get the phrase out on the FAFSA assets obtainable to low-income households, posting flyers for FAFSA drop-in facilities and assist periods at subway stations and bodegas all through the town, handing them out in homeless shelters and round rent-controlled housing developments.

They’ve additionally been assembly college students the place they’re to maintain them up-to-date on shifting deadlines and obtainable assets. Harris stated they’re sending textual content reminders twice every week to highschool seniors enrolled within the metropolis’s mentorship program, Subsequent STEPS (Striving Towards Engagement and Peaceable Options), encouraging these most weak to frustration and apathy to finish the shape.

“The largest problem is ensuring the suitable folks have the suitable data on the proper time,” Harris stated. “Doing that in a district with 500-plus excessive colleges takes fairly an effort … however I feel these efforts have been fruitful.”

The inhabitants most in want of FAFSA assist is college students from mixed-status households, who’ve been basically locked out of completion because the type launched late final 12 months. Serrano can relate as a result of she additionally comes from a mixed-status household. With out federal and state support, she stated, she doubtless by no means would have arrived on the first cease in her greater ed journey, LaGuardia Neighborhood Faculty in Queens.

“I’ve a pupil who was so excited, who began her FAFSA on December 31, the day it launched,” she stated. “She nonetheless hasn’t accomplished it. Each week I attempt to assist her, to get by way of to the assist hotline and determine it out, however it’s onerous.”

Serrano ultimately desires to change into a full-time highschool counselor. This spring has proved to be a uniquely troublesome trial in her skilled growth, however she stated that if she may assist college students by way of the FAFSA fiasco, she may deal with any disaster.

The town’s efforts received’t be mirrored within the numbers for no less than a number of extra weeks. However for Harris, efficiently boosting completion could be a testomony to its “neighborhood of assist” and the ability of collaboration.

“We now have to ensure we’re wrapping our arms round these college students as a result of it’s not their fault, they usually shouldn’t bear the brunt of what’s taking place,” she stated. “Everybody feels a accountability to take away as a lot burden from college students and households as they’ll.”