What’s a FAFSA?
Elgin Community College creates a financial literacy program that consolidates key information for students and parents.
By Kim Wagner
The financial aid process can be confusing. To help families better understand the process of paying for college, Elgin Community College (ECC) created a financial literacy program that consolidates key information. (Read also "I Have to Pay for All This?" in the December 2013 issue of Business Officer magazine.)
In 2012, in collaboration with the college's Alliance for College Readiness program, the student financial services department designed a series of college-planning events for families. We sent out thousands of save-the-date postcards, posted details on our Web site, and mailed 5-by-7-inch magnets that listed important college-preparation steps to thousands of families with high school seniors.
The first event was ECC's College Night, which highlighted many four-year colleges and universities, as well as our own academic programs. The financial aid and student accounts offices provided general Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), scholarship, payment plan, and tuition-cost information.
Next up was "College and Career 101 for Parents of High School Students," hosted by area high school counselors and our staff. Topics ranged from placement testing and career choices, to time-management needs and financial assistance, with a general overview of the federal Student Financial Assistance program, state grants, and scholarships.
Two weeks later, we presented the College Smart Fair, which provided additional information about completing the FAFSA, finding scholarships, and writing a scholarship essay. Parents also could speak directly with financial aid experts from the student accounts and financial aid offices. We have been presenting the College Smart Fair since 2010, but this was the first time the fair was aligned with other events and programs across the campus.
To implement the program, we spent about $5,000 for marketing materials, informational packets, and event refreshments, which was leveraged across multiple departments. This collaborative effort also markedly increased the staff that could be allocated to the program.
The needs of parents and students for college-going information are not one-dimensional, but range from academic to financial to overall life skills. We believe that families need to hear the information multiple times—with the freedom to ask questions—because access to education is fundamental to making a positive difference in a student's life.
KIM WAGNER is managing director of student financial services, Elgin Community College, Illinois. In 2013, her institution won a NACUBO Innovation Award for its financial literacy program.