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by Shar-day Campbell, financial aid expert and Fellow at the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation
(Black PR Wire) Black History Month is a time for commemorating the history, achievements, contributions and lived experiences of African-Americans. Many may not know that February is also Financial Aid Awareness Month. This time of year is a good opportunity to look at the history of financial aid for Black students and share some key tips to help those navigating the financial aid process during the pandemic.
HISTORY OF FINANCIAL AID FOR BLACK STUDENTS
One of the first forms of financial aid that created economic mobility was the GI Bill for veterans signed in 1944. Although the GI Bill did not specifically block Black veterans’ access to benefits, the discriminatory practices in honorable discharge decisions and Jim Crow laws regarding education blocked Black veterans’ ability to use the benefits.
In 1965, the Higher Education Act officially defined Historically Black Colleges (HBCU) as accredited institutions of higher learning and created grants and loan programs to increase access to higher education. Fast forward to when the federal Pell Grant was started in 1972 and Blacks were only a few years removed from the Civil Rights Movement’s last landmark law – the Fair Housing Act. When you consider the climate in 1972, a legal provision didn’t necessarily mean educational access and equity.
FINANCIAL AID FOR BLACK STUDENTS TODAY
Since the passing of key higher education legislation, strides have been made in educational access. In recent years, there have been promising trends regarding Black students’ FAFSA completion rates. A 2017 study using National Postsecondary Aid Study (NPSAS) data found that currently enrolled Black college students are, on average, 15% more likely than their white classmates to complete the FAFSA.
Unfortunately, today, Black students and their families continuously face documented systematic barriers affecting wealth and educational access and attainment. Due to the pandemic, higher education enrollment across the country has declined with financial barriers documented as a leading reason. Considering that what affects the majority will likely exacerbate or worsen the barriers Black students face, the current economic downturn could deeply impact how much Black families can pay for college and how much aid Black students are awarded for the 2022 – 2023 financial aid cycle.
Now more than ever, it’s important for Black students and their families to understand how to access financial aid as a tool to help fund their educational goals.
THREE FINANCIAL AID TIPS FOR BLACK STUDENTS
Let’s take a look at some resources and tips to help Black students receive all of the financial aid for which they may be eligible!
1. Complete the FAFSA for the Correct Aid Year
Your first step to learn what financial aid you’re eligible to receive will always be to visit studentaid.gov to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Right now, there are two FAFSA forms open: the 2021 – 2022 and 2022 – 2023 FAFSA.
- If you plan on attending school in the Fall 2022, Spring 2023 and Summer 2023, please complete the 2022 – 2023 FAFSA using your 2020 tax return.
- If you plan on attending school in Spring 2022 and/or Summer 2022, please complete the 2021 – 2022 FAFSA using your 2019 tax return.
The quickest ways for students and their families to complete the FAFSA are online or through the mobile app (myStudentAid), but there is also the option to complete the application by mail. Deadlines for the FAFSA may vary by state and can be viewed on studentaid.gov.
2. Where the Money Resides for College
All students (part-time and full-time) should apply for financial aid. By submitting a free financial aid application, you may qualify for over 10 types of federal grants, loans, and work-study funds that can help cover the cost of college. Colleges also use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for state and institutional grants and scholarships.
After submitting your application and any required documentation, it’s important to not only review your financial aid award, but also your anticipated costs. Be sure to consider all costs from tuition, fees and books to housing, food and transportation/travel. When you understand the amount of financial aid you’re eligible to receive, the type of aid awarded, and how much your bill would be, you will better understand which institution will meet your financial and academic needs.
3. Know Your Rights
Since the 2022 – 2023 financial aid award will be based on 2020 tax returns, students’ household income could look totally different now.
Did you know that by federal law, there are certain reasons you can request a change to your financial aid package through what’s called a “professional judgment” or “special circumstances” appeal? Reasons to appeal your financial aid award include but are not limited to job loss, loss of a loved one, medical expenses, childcare, or other financial setbacks.
On the homepage for submitting your FAFSA, the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) shares that financial aid offices can adjust your financial aid award to reflect you or your family’s current income. For appeals, FSA advises students to contact the financial aid office at the school they plan to attend.
Not sure where to start when contacting the financial aid office? There is a free tool, SwiftStudent, that offers downloadable templates for students to request adjustments to their financial aid award. Since launching in 2020, the free site has been used by 75,000+ students.
Downloading a free template can be done in a matter of minutes because students simply complete a form, and their responses generate an appeal letter they can download to send to their financial aid office. The question prompts on the form also guide students through what supporting documentation they may need to submit with their appeal.
There is no cost to use SwiftStudent, which was developed by the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation in partnership with the ACT Center for Equity in Learning, National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), and fifteen other leading education organizations. SwiftStudent is powered for free by FormSwift, a cloud-based document template service.
Shar-day Campbell is a Fellow at the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation (SHSF) and an award-winning higher education communications expert, who creates content strategies to engage students and close their knowledge gaps about enrolling and funding their education.