More high school students will have opportunities for help navigating the convoluted process of applying for college financial aid, thanks for a $50,000 grant to Graduation Matters Montana from the Student Assistance Foundation.
Education leaders announced the grant at Big Sky High School on Friday morning.
The foundation’s grant helps schools better prepare students for college, said Denise Juneau, superintendent of instruction for Montana who attended the event.
This is the second year the organization has made the donation to help encourage students to apply for financial aid. About 70 percent of Montana students attend a school that participates in the state initiative, which was inspired by a similar program initially launched at Big Sky High, Juneau said.
The grant enabled the Office of Public Instruction to create the Graduation Matters-Student Assistance Foundation Montana College Readiness Fund, which grants up to $5,000 for schools to host college goal events, host forums about completing federal financial aid forms, participate in college application week, and host or participate in an activity that will help students be better prepared for college.
Big Sky was chosen as the announcement site because of how it effectively used a $5,000 grant from SAF last year. The school was able to reach out to families using Free Application for Federal Student Aid open house nights, training volunteer FAFSA counselors and making sure students and parents had all the information they needed.
Because of their relentless efforts, the number of students filling out FAFSA forms jumped 11 percent, to 33 percent.
Big Sky senior Abbey Hege said she values the grant and the opportunities it helps fellow students tap into to keep their college debt to a minimum.
“Anything that they are willing to give us, we’re happy to accept,” she said, thanking SAF for the grant.
Applying for FAFSA can be daunting. However, the payoff can be immense for students who are considering college but are not sure how to afford it without racking up debt that will limit their options post-graduation, said Hege, who serves as student body president.
Adults who hold a bachelor’s degree will make an average of $20,000 more per year than their peers who hold a only high school degree, she shared, adding she plans to apply for FAFSA.
“I think a lot of my classmates will be taking that opportunity,” she said.
Students who want help filling out FAFSA forms can get it through school guidance counselors, she added. “With the resources we’ve got here, it can be less complicated.”
College costs present barriers for students, Juneau said, adding that Graduation Matters is about removing barriers and helping students avoid debt after college graduation. “And the best way to do that is to get financial aid.”
Students won’t get any federal aid if they don’t at least apply for it, said Kelly Cresswell, SAF’s vice president of foundation activities.
SAF can help students and their families fill out forms, free of charge, to see if they are eligible for aid regardless of the type of school students want to attend, she added.
Applications from schools are being accepted through Oct. 18. To learn more about funding or about help with financial aid, visit smartaboutcollege.org.
To learn more about Graduation Matters, visit graduationmatters.mt.gov.