Guest Commentary: College in your hands

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Guest Commentary: College in your hands

Photo courtesy of the UIS Diversity Center

Photo courtesy of the UIS Diversity Center

Photo courtesy of the UIS Diversity Center

Shavondra Britton, Guest Columnist

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Every year, thousands of students hunt to find alternate ways to pay for college, because the aid available to help pay for college doesn’t cover the cost of attending. Although cost of attendance for college varies across the board, one issue remains the same: students are struggling to pay for school.

Yes, lawmakers have presented some ways to increase college affordability and reduce students’ debt, but it’s not enough.

This election, I would like to see the next state and federal lawmakers work just a little bit harder to help college students. As a student and an older sibling, I think it should be higher on the list of our government’s priorities, as we are the future of America and its economy.

How much aid each student receives is based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application provides insight on a student’s family income and impacts how much financial aid a student is eligible to receive. This can come in the form of loan eligibility, Pell or MAP grants, or Federal Work-Study opportunities as determined by your school.

One big issue with the FAFSA is that it’s extremely confusing and difficult to fill out.

According to a report published by Young Invincibles, the most recent version of FAFSA consists of over 100 questions; a large part is dedicated to family income and tax information that many students may not be able to access.

The wording of the questions also makes it difficult to comprehend, especially for students who are new to the application process or who may not receive help from a counselor or someone familiar with the application, such as first-generation students.

Moving forward, I hope to see our next president and lawmakers change the application further, making it easier on students and their families.

President Obama changed the FAFSA so that families can use prior year tax data, but it could potentially be revoked by executive action if not codified.

One important form of federal aid students receive is the Pell Grant, which used to cover 77 percent of college costs at a four-year university, according to Young Invincibles. But as tuition rose, the maximum grant now only covers about 30 percent.

It doesn’t help that every year the Pell Grant program is in jeopardy of being cut, which would be detrimental, as many low-income students, including myself, depend on this program.

When the Pell Grant is cut, many students have to take out more loans, digging themselves a deeper hole. The cost causes some students to drop out, and some may not even attempt to attend college.

Today’s students are the future of America, and a vast majority of college attendees depend on financial aid. Therefore, it is the responsibility of our next president and Congress, who are supposed to be “the face of the people,” to not let us down when it comes to access to higher education.

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