Rising to the Moment: College Advising Corps Navigates FAFSA Changes

Mar 26, 2024


As high school seniors embark on the exhilarating journey of their final year, filled with memorable milestones like prom and graduation, they also face weighty decisions about their future. For many, the path to higher education is a beacon of hope that is often challenging to reach. Yet, this spring brings added complexity as families grapple with a revamped FAFSA process.

The Education Department overhauled the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a cornerstone of college financial planning, intending to simplify the process. However, the reality was a delayed release fraught with technological issues, leaving families in a state of uncertainty and stress.

Recently recognized by the Boston Globe for playing a crucial role in this work, Director of College Advising Corps at Boston University Katie Hill spoke with us about this moment and how College Advising Corps (CAC) is supporting students and families. GreenLight Boston brought College Advising Corps to Boston in 2013; And in the 11 years since then, they have supported thousands of BPS students and their families to apply for financial aid and make college-going decisions. And CAC is as needed now as when we first invested in them – and they are rising to the moment!

With the FAFSA challenges, Katie acknowledges the uphill battle many families are facing. At this time last year, 51% of BPS families had submitted FAFSA applications. This year, only 35% have done so. Despite these challenges, CAC is well positioned to support families as they navigate this process. 

CAC employs full-time, near-peer advisors who are embedded within Boston Public high schools and well connected to other college access programs across Boston. Katie and her team at CAC are providing extensive training and support to advisors, in addition collaborating with other practitioners and higher education institutions, hosting FAFSA drop-in hours, and providing one-on-one support to families. For some families, this could mean three separate meetings with advisors to complete the FAFSA this cycle, but advisors are up to the task.

Additionally, CAC is providing ongoing education to families through the new Family Academy Texting initiative – made possible through a GreenLight Boston Portfolio Advisory Council reinvestment. This program is specifically designed to keep families informed and engaged throughout the college application process via text messages in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. It provides timely resources, reminders, and support, making the process more navigable for working parents, low-income families, and non-native English speakers.

Katie highlights an often overlooked piece of the equation – the impact on colleges’ and universities’ decision-making. Colleges and universities are experiencing delays and difficult decisions due to the FAFSA as well, and many have announced that they will not be sending individual financial aid packages until April, at the earliest.

This ripple effect of universities receiving delayed FAFSA information and producing individual award letters on a delayed timeline has huge implications for families. As Katie pointed out, “This is an equity issue because the universities that are most affected are the ones serving BIPOC students and students from lower-income backgrounds,” like state universities and community colleges. In response, CAC is planning to lean into their crucial “summer melt” work even more and provide continued support and advising services to families well into the summer months to ensure families are able to evaluate their financial aid options and make the best choice possible.

Despite the setbacks, Katie remains optimistic, recognizing the potential of the CAC model and the advisors to adapt and meet the moment. Katie and the CAC team continue to advocate tirelessly for students, striving to ensure that every individual has the opportunity to pursue higher education, regardless of socioeconomic barriers or bureaucratic hurdles.

Inspired by the work of CAC and want to support their work? Consider applying to be an Advisor or sharing this opportunity with a recent college graduate. Additionally, you can reach out to Katie Hill directly at [email protected] about ways you can get involved.