Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett joined leaders of the M3 education initiative to encourage high school seniors to fill out a critical financial aid form needed to unlock access to potential scholarships, grants and other types of assistance to help pay for college.
As of April 2, the number of high school seniors nationwide who have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid was down 7% compared to the same point in the 2019-2020 academic year, according to the National College Attainment Network.
A recent survey by education firm EAB found, in part, that high school students were having more difficulty accessing support networks of college counselors, teachers and coaches during the coronavirus pandemic.
The M3 partnership, which involves Milwaukee Public Schools, Milwaukee Area Technical College and UWM, hopes to help reverse the decline in FAFSA completion through an outreach campaign that includes opportunities for virtual and in-person assistance to fill out the form. Barrett took part in a M3 virtual event Wednesday to promote FAFSA completion.
This is an especially important time for high school seniors as they decide where to attend college in the fall. The FAFSA can affect a student’s financial aid package, which can include federal and grants, federal loans, work-study positions and other institutional aid.
Joshua Wilder, a senior at Riverside University High School, completed his FAFSA form in the fall with the help of his aunt and counselors from high school and the Boys & Girls Clubs. An aspiring software engineer, Wilder wants to create a foundation that manufactures and teaches software as a way to help low-income communities struggling with access to technology.
Wilder is trying to decide where to attend college, choosing among options both in and out of state. “Because I completed my FAFSA, a lot of different opportunities are out there and I’m able to choose between those many different schools,” Wilder said.
Barrett said that FAFSA completion was the first step to opening opportunities in higher education and beyond. Addressing racial disparities ranked as the Milwaukee region’s biggest challenge in a survey of Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce board members and the CEOs of its member companies.
First step toward opportunity
“It’s about the future of our city and the future of our economy,” Barrett said. “The path of success is always going to include knowledge.”
“One key to unlocking a bright future is seizing the assistance that’s available,” the mayor added. “It’s what our city needs – talented young people.”
College students also must fill out the FAFSA each year. It can help determine eligibility for other types of need-based aid, such as the federal CARES grants that have been distributed to help students pay for emergency expenses due to the pandemic.
As of April 1, the number of FAFSA applications received by UWM students was down 5% compared to the previous year.
“Education is the pathway to much more opportunity in so many different ways, and FAFSA is foundational to that,” UWM Chancellor Mark Mone said. “It’s about the workforce, it’s about quality of life, it’s about economic development.
“FAFSA well deserves to be at the center of this conversation,” Mone added.
Eliminating equity gaps
The broad goal of the M3 initiative is to work to eliminate equity gaps in education. The collaboration already has helped to increase MPS high school graduation rates and started a dual enrollment program to help MPS students earn college credits during their senior year.
Presenters on Wednesday – which besides Mone also included MPS Superintendent Keith Posley and MATC President Vicki Martin – also offered tips for family members and friends of high school students.
They include in-person FAFSA assistance at all MPS high schools from April 12 to 24, along with a districtwide session on Saturday, April 17. More details are available on MPS’ FAFSA site.
At UWM, students can schedule a virtual FAFSA support appointment by going to https://go.oncehub.com/uwmfinaid.