Millikin, Richland team up for FAFSA help

ILLINOIS (WAND) - Illinois leaders are launching a campaign to increase awareness of the application process for college financial aid. 

The Rock the FAFSA Campaign is a collaboration between Gov. JB Pritzker, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. It is meant to reach students, parents, schools and communities with a focus on increasing awareness of the importance of getting a financial aid application done. 

The campaign offers free statewide assistance to families in completing the applications. State leaders are encouraging high schools to have one or more financial aid application completion workshops for students and families during Rock the FAFSA Illinois Week, which runs from March 15-19.

Schools or community organizations who want to have a virtual financial aid completion workshop with the ISAC during the week of the campaign should schedule with them now by emailing Abel.Montoya@Illinois.gov. Should a school want to host its own workshop, ISAC can provide learning materials. Local ISACorps members can help by providing free one-on-one virtual help for students and families in completing their financial aid application. 

Illinois ranks as one of the top states when it comes to completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form determines a student's eligibility for federal, most state and some institutional financial aid.

State leaders noted in a press release that the pandemic created vast challenges for families and upended post-secondary education plans for some students. In addition, remote learning made it harder to reach many students to be sure they have enough information about post-secondary education options and financial aid. 

Completing a financial aid form continues to be a critical part of the path to post-secondary education, officials said. 

“The number one way to create a stronger future for our state is investing in our young people, giving them the tools they need to believe in themselves and the opportunities to make their dreams possible,” said Pritzker. “Working with the General Assembly, I passed a law to build FAFSA completion into Illinois’ high school graduation requirements so that our graduating seniors have the freedom to choose the pathway that’s best for them with a full understanding of available resources. The Rock the FAFSA Illinois campaign has the potential to make higher education possible for students who might otherwise have assumed the door wasn’t open for them.

"In this initiative and beyond, my administration is committed to giving our young people robust and affordable access to the post-graduate opportunity of their choosing – whether that’s a four-year or two-year institution, technical or vocational training, or direct-to-workforce job – so they can build a good life that works for them right here in Illinois.”

The Illinois FAFSA Mandate is in its first year in 2020. In it, Illinois public high school seniors are required to finish a financial aid application to receive their diploma. Most students should get the FAFSA done, state officials said, and eligible students who don't qualify for federal student aid can apply for state and/or school funded help with the Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid

A parent, guardian or the student (if 18 or emancipated) can opt out of the mandate by filling out a non-participation form. 

Illinois leaders said the FAFSA or Alternative Application takes about 30 minutes for most students to finish. ISAC is continuing to offer one-on-one help and free virtual statewide financial aid application completion workshops. Click here for more information about those opportunities. 

"Most students will be eligible for some form of financial aid, but you can’t get financial aid if you don’t apply,” said Eric Zarnikow, executive director of ISAC. “Completing a FAFSA or Alternative Application gives a student options. Whether you are considering a two- or four-year degree or technical or vocational training—knowing what kind of financial aid you can get for your education will allow you to make more informed choices about school—and may open up options you didn’t think would be possible.”

Illinois leaders said turning filling out a financial application into an expectation for high school students to graduate can "increase awareness of resources available to help students afford education or training after high school." They added it can maybe help some students decide to try college when they otherwise might not have. 

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