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Finish Your FAFSA, Find Your Future: Solutions for Black Students and HBCUs Navigating the FAFSA Rollout

In April, I outlined the challenges Black students and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are facing with the rollout of the new Better FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form, a dynamic that has since led to a multitude of challenges, setbacks, and concerns among students, caregivers and educators as completing the form is a prerequisite for college students to receive federal student aid such as grants, work-study funds, and loans.

Dr. Harry WilliamsDr. Harry WilliamsThe new process, while intended to simplify an already intricate form, has created more hurdles for Black students to secure financial aid crucial for facilitating their education. The delays have since added to budget drafting challenges due to enrollment unpredictability, potential errors in the amount of financial aid awarded to students, and institutions falling behind schedule with limited time and resources to catch up. HBCUs, already in a precarious situation due to historic underfunding, and their students, graduating with an average of $25,000 more in student loan debt than white graduates, are placed in an even more vulnerable position due to these delays.

As an advocate for HBCUs and the Black college community, Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) sought immediate solutions to these issues and pledged to assist its member schools and students filter through this additional layer of complexity, that has created more hurdles for Black students attempting to access and secure the financial aid that is crucial for their educational journey.

Through a critical grant of $1.1 million from the ECMC Foundation, TMCF’s ‘Finish Your FAFSA: Find Your Future’ campaign, taking place from June 24 - Aug. 31, will create an intentional effort to boost FAFSA completion rates with a multi-faceted approach which will include a targeted ad campaign, a website with completion information and FAQs, informational webinars and office hours to provide guidance on the completion process, and the establishment of a call center with trained peer facilitators, who will connect directly with incoming and returning students (and their guardians) who have yet to complete the FAFSA form. The initiative, which will also provide employment for 54 students from member schools for 10 weeks, allows institutions additional resources for direct engagement to boost FAFSA completion.

As the country’s largest champion exclusively for the Black college community, TMCF is dedicated to providing direct and comprehensive support to HBCUs and their students and to expedite the process, we have already initiated outreach to all HBCUs. Through partnership and funding provided by ECMC, TMCF will conduct a strategic campaign to convey the positive outcomes from finishing the FAFSA forms, such as access to critical loans and grants that provide for a better foundation for the future, freedom to explore opportunities and experiences, new friends, and a university family that HBCUs have historically provided for Black students seeking a higher education.

While we are proud of these efforts, it is not realistic to expect them to completely prevent the erosion in enrollment that this well-intentioned, but poorly executed process has created for HBCU students and their respective institutions. While TMCF and HBCU leaders are continuing to engage with the U.S. Department of Education to not only find immediate solutions but also resolve the future implications that this dynamic may have created, together, we are actively urging government leaders to take steps to safeguard and support HBCUs and their students during the ongoing implementation of the Better FAFSA.

As TMCF continues our unwavering support and advocacy for the Black college community, we hope these issues are resolved as quickly as possible to allow students to shift their focus away from financial obligations and towards their educational and professional aspirations, and for institutions to be able to focus on providing students with the opportunities to support and empower their dreams.

Dr. Harry Williams is the president & CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

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