WALLA WALLA, WASH. – High school students and their families will soon have a new resource for help with their college financial aid applications.
Financial aid outreach specialists will provide information and support in completing both the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and the Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA). These specialists meet with students in the high schools through scheduled appointments and other activities.
Five community colleges received funding for this pilot project through Washington House Bill 1835. The state bill directs Washington’s State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) to generate and promote student financial aid initiatives that increase the number of people who complete the FAFSA and attain a college credential.
Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) was selected to provide this service in Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, and Walla Walla counties. Marisol Luengas-Maya and Natalia Nikolaeva will serve as financial aid outreach specialists in the high schools throughout these counties.
“The FAFSA and WASFA applications are intimidating and daunting, and they can be difficult to complete for many students and families,” Luengas-Maya said. “We are here to provide information and help you complete these applications, so more people can have confidence in their ability to attend college.”
These financial aid outreach specialists are available to assist regardless of the college or university a student plans to attend. This service is free for all participants.
The FAFSA and WASFA are critical resources for any student wishing to continue their education past high school. Through these applications, college students are awarded various forms of financial aid—many of which don’t require repayment.
Washington regularly ranks among the worst states in the nation for FAFSA completion, yet cost is the most common barrier to enrollment and completion.
“Estimates suggest that Washington students miss out on more than $50 million in unclaimed federal aid by not completing the FAFSA, and much of this aid doesn’t need to be paid back,” WWCC Director of Student Financial SupportMaisee Peralez said.
Through this outreach, the State of Washington aims to bring awareness to how financial aid can make a college degree more affordable, and how the FAFSA and WASFA can help students achieve that goal.
According to Aim Higher Washington, led by the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), only about 60% of Washington’s high school graduates have enrolled in a college or university immediately after high school since 2014. In funding this pilot project, the State of Washington set a goal that 70% of adults will complete a degree or credential—a number that currently only stands at 62%.
“The very first step in making any decision is to be well-informed,” Nikolaeva said. “This collaborative project is a key opportunity for high school students and their families to access higher education and learn about financial resources to make it more affordable. They can then make the decision that is best for their unique needs.”
Walla Walla Community College is partnering with Blue Mountain Action Council (BMAC) to increase financial aid awareness and financial aid application completion for high school seniors, as well as adults who are pursuing postsecondary education. BMAC will collaborate with WWCC to perform community-based outreach to community members, as well as other organizations in the community that share the goal of creating and increasing college-going culture.
Specific BMAC staff will receive additional training through Aim Higher Washington and conduct outreach events in schools, libraries and similar public venues through the remainder of the academic year. The organization hopes to help as many as a hundred or more people through in-person and virtual appointments, group sessions, and events.
“We are proud to be part of this partnership to connect more area students and families to the financial resources available to them to pursue higher education,” BMAC Interim CEO Danielle Garbe Reser said. “Postsecondary certificates and degrees help workers qualify for more and better paying jobs, improving the quality of life for them and their families.”
Area public libraries are also receiving funding to support those no longer in high school who are wishing to start a college degree.
If you are interested in learning more about this program and live in or around Walla Walla, College Place, Touchet, Dayton, Waitsburg, or Prescott, please contact Marisol Luengas-Maya at 509.296.9642 or [email protected]. If you live in or around Clarkston or Pomeroy, please contact Natalia Nikolaeva at 509-296-9643 or [email protected]. Additional information about WWCC is available at wwcc.edu.