By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
As surprising as it may seem, applying to universities and trade schools may be the easiest step when it comes to continuing education. The second step, often viewed as the most daunting one, is filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid better known as FAFSA.
Over the years, FAFSA has gained a bad rep, although it’s working hard to change that. Recently, the FAFSA application process, which once began in April, changed to October. In other words, people can begin submitting their FAFSA applications as early as Oct. 1.
“FAFSA is the tool that opens the door to education,” said Mayor Tom Barrett.
According to Interim Milwaukee Public School Superintendent, Dr. Keith Posey, in 2016 the FAFSA completion rate in MPS hit 49.9 percent. This year’s goal is 80 percent. To help achieve this goal, all the high schools will be participating in the Wisconsin Goes to College Campaign, Posey said.
Additionally, to encourage more students to apply to college and FAFSA, 20 new college career centers were established in MPS high schools. M3, which consists of UW-Milwaukee, MATC and MPS, are continuing their joint efforts to ensure that every student continues their education.
Posey said FAFSA is a community effort. It’s not just the schools and the students, he said. “[The students are] going to need your commitment and your support,” Posey said to parents.
Shannon Snow, the mother of Dominick Snow Pierce who graduated from MacDowell and now attends Concordia University, said the College Career Program helped Dominic with his applications.
As a mother, Snow said she always emphasized to her children that school was the top priority. MacDowell’s college advisors matched her commitment by following through with Dominick and making sure he filled out not only his college application, but FAFSA too. He’s eternally grateful his support system pushed him to do both, said Dominick.
“FAFSA is the best thing in life,” he said.
As a parent himself, Barrett said he knows how intimidating the FAFSA application can be. The name alone sounds scary he said. The first questions many people have is ‘What is FAFSA?’ followed by ‘How do I do FAFSA?’. Once the application process begins, it quickly becomes understandable, he said.
“We filled out the FAFSA,” he said. “[It was] one of the smartest economic decisions of my life.”
FAFSA helps the students and their parents establish a plan for their college years. Barrett called it a blueprint of do-ability that can help ease the discomfort of financial uncertainty. He said, as mayor, he speaks on behalf of the city. Milwaukee needs more kids to go to college, he said.
The job vacancies are there, but the applicants may not have the skills to even apply for the jobs, he said. Companies may decide to export the jobs if they can’t find employees in Milwaukee. This would be a huge blow to the city’s economic status. Wealth can be built in these neighborhoods, he said, and it can be built through education.
“The plus side is so huge, I think it’s worth it,” Barrett said.
Andrea Atkins, a single mother of seven MPS students, testified to how helpful FAFSA is. Of her children, four have attended college, so far, and three of them have graduated. Parents can support their child’s dream of attending college with FAFSA, she said.
“Our children are the future and we must invest in their education and success,” she said.
This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Courier.