Federal financial aid is key for many college students

A recent report published by the Association of Community College Trustees (2013) emphasizes the reality that “higher education has become essential for collective economic prosperity and individual advancement.” Predictions from the Georgetown Center on Education indicate that 65 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2020 will require some form of postsecondary education or training.

It should come as no surprise that community colleges play a vital role in helping meet the national challenge to significantly increase the number of working-age adults who have earned a postsecondary credential, degree or certificate. In fact, the nation’s community colleges serve approximately 13 million students each year by providing access to affordable higher education, workforce training, and completion of credentials.

Even though community colleges pride themselves on maintaining their mission of accessible and affordable education, the cost of attending any public postsecondary education program continues to rise. This makes federal financial aid a critical piece of low- and middle-income students’ funding packages.

It’s important for parents and prospective students to know there are three “pillars” of federal financial aid for students: grants, loans, and tax credits. Given that grant awards do not require repayment by the student, this potential funding stream can understandably become a major source of support. The Pell Grant is the most important federal program for community colleges, helping 3.5 million community college students pay for tuition, fees, books, living expenses and transportation. Among all students in postsecondary education nationwide, community college students receive 33 percent of all Pell Grant funds disbursed.

With spring fast approaching, now is the time for parents and students to aggressively explore and better understand the most cost effective ways to pay for a college education. Federal financial aid may very well be a viable funding option. Students applying for federal aid programs must start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA requires applicants to provide a considerable amount of basic information and is often perceived to be a time-consuming and frustrating process.

The Financial Aid Offices at Ellsworth and Marshalltown Community Colleges have staff who can provide assistance to students by helping with the completion of the FAFSA, answering questions regarding eligibility, processing student loan requests, and helping to make the process as stress-free as possible. It’s all part of our Iowa Valley Community College District mission to provide quality learning experiences and ensure student success.

Christopher Duree is the chancellor of Iowa Valley Community College and can be reached at 641-844-5720.