Are school vocational programs failing some students with special needs?
More Phoenix Students Seek Federal Aid For College
The Free Application For Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA, opens the door to grants and loans.
It’s one of many steps students can take to prepare for college, but a study found less than one-third of students in Phoenix even apply.
Last year, two big requirements for FAFSA changed and in several Phoenix Union High School District schools at least 50 percent of students have already completed applications.
“There’s this misconception that college is very expensive, for a lot of our Pell Grant students it’s not,” said Dolores Ramirez, a post-secondary articulation specialist at PUHSD.
Pell Grants are federal awards for undergraduates that don’t need to be re-paid.
FAFSA changes help increase completion
FAFSA requires cooperation between students and their parents. Among the information needed is tax forms, bank statements and sometimes unexpected facts like marriage dates.
This year, the application calls for income from a year earlier, which means students don’t have to wait for their parent’s newest tax information.
The application period also opened early, Oct. 1 instead of Jan. 1.
“In the past, one of the biggest challenges was the timing,” said Mary Wrobel, a counselor at Phoenix’s Metro Tech High School.
In addition, some parents and students, including those who may be undocumented immigrants, worry about turning personal information over to the government.
“There is some apprehension,” Wrobel said.”I think the best thing we can do is not step around it and sugar coat it.”
'It wasn’t that painful’
Wrobel said the school hit the ground running on Oct. 1 with an after school workshop to help students and their parents complete the FAFSA.
Already, the number of students who have completed FAFSA at Metro Tech High School this year exceeds the total from last year.
Wrobel attributes some of the success to a $55,000 grant from the National College Access Network that provided for additional counselor training over the summer.
Counseling staff also has an aggressive outreach plan, each week an AmeriCorp volunteer follows up with students who have started FAFSA and counselors speak with parents and students who have not yet applied.
Kimberly Mojica Gomez, 17, finished the first day possible.
“My hopes are to go to Arizona State University and to study for business administration,” she said.
With help from Wrobel Gomez found out she was eligible for a $5,800 Pell Grant.
As was her classmate Marco Galindo, who will be the second person in his family to graduate after his older sister.
“Junior year was honestly the year I stepped up my game and tried to figure out what I wanted to be,” said Galindo, who is pursuing scholarships to play soccer and eventually wants to study architecture.
“Their faces get so bright when they hit submit and it comes up that they got a Pell Grant,” Wrobel said. “They’re like ‘what, I just did that? I got almost $6,000 free to go to school and it wasn’t that painful.’”
Hilario Mendoza also completed his FAFSA. It wasn't the comprehensive financial information that slowed his family, but an inaccessible email.
Here's what he would tell fellow students:
“Even though they have limitations, we could always find a way to go around it. Don’t procrastinate it, that’s what I’m trying to say.”