The Urban Institute recently published, “Delivering Early Information About College Financial Aid: Exploring the Options for Middle School Students.” The authors, Sandy Baum, Sarah Minton, and Lorraine Blatt, investigated alternate, effective ways of providing financial aid information to middle school students and their families.
The reasons behind their research are well documented in other studies. First, erroneous perceptions about the price of college and a lack of awareness of financial aid are prevalent among low-income, first generation, and minority families. Secondly, without an understanding of the financial aid process, students may not apply for financial aid, choose colleges based on costs and not the colleges best suited for them, or forgo college altogether.
Conversely, “families who understand early on that grant aid will cover a significant part of the cost of college will be more likely to plan ahead and to encourage their children to prepare academically for college.” Evidence suggests that programs that encourage students to aspire for college early (Kalamazoo Promise, Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars program) lead to increased college enrollment. A program that provides information about financial aid to low-income parents of North Carolina middle school students also shows evidence that those parents are significantly more likely to understand financial aid than parents not provided the information.
With this background of evidence, the study explores finding low-income families through other federal aid programs (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, etc.) and providing them with information on financial aid programs. They conclude that the idea has promise, but has its challenges (training of caseworkers, time restraints, etc.).
They conclude, however, that the need is far greater than the challenges. They argue that “a concerted effort to promote early awareness of college financial aid opportunities should involve multiple strategies.” We wholeheartedly agree with that conclusion. That is why our curriculum explores financial aid. We encourage more research and efforts in providing families and students the knowledge they need to aspire to a college education.