CHICAGO - Students and parents who may be missing out on financial aid to pay for college are now getting assistance as part of Financial Aid U, a national effort to support low-income and first generation students and their families with the assistance they need to find financial aid resources that will help them pay for their post-secondary educations. The 2011 Financial Aid U initiative kicks off with Financial Aid Awareness Week, February 6-12.
More than 40 percent of community college students who are eligible for a federal Pell Grant did not apply in 2007-08, and nearly 25 percent of eligible students attending four-year public institutions did not apply for the aid, according to a recent report from the College Board and the American Association of Community Colleges.
The National Community Tax Coalition (NCTC), the nation’s largest membership network of community based organizations offering free tax and financial services to low-income working families, partnered with the Citi Foundation to develop and grow the Financial Aid U program to help families pay for college. Now in its third year, Financial Aid U has expanded to 10 of the largest markets in the United States through a $1.5 million grant from the Citi Foundation.
“President Obama has added college completion for more Americans to his agenda in an effort to maintain our country’s global competitiveness. But, at the same time, families are struggling just to make ends meet. As important as it is, a college education just feels out of reach to so many,” said Jackie Lynn Coleman, senior director, National Community Tax Coalition.
Last year, Financial Aid U programs helped more than 1,200 students complete FAFSA forms, generating $10.7 million in federal assistance and an additional $4.3 million in low-interest student loans.
“Eighty percent of today’s fastest growing careers require a postsecondary degree. As the job market grows more competitive, those without a college degree could be left further behind,” said Pam Flaherty, president and CEO, Citi Foundation. “By supporting low-income and first generation students and their families through this critical step on the path to college, we will help more of them realize their college dreams and build successful careers.”
This year, NCTC chose organizations in 10 cities across the country to participate in Financial Aid U. Each organization has extensive experience providing tax preparation and financial education to low-income families. Now, in addition to financial coaches helping low-income individuals file their income tax returns, they are also using that information to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) for clients.
“As much as 75 percent of the information on the FAFSA form is drawn from income tax returns, so it just makes sense to add that support to the services our members are already providing,” said Coleman. “During this week, we want to make sure our clients know that some federal financial aid is allotted on a first come, first served basis, so it is crucial that students file their FAFSA forms as soon as possible.”
With nationwide college attendance rates for low-income households lagging 20 to 40 percent behind their higher-income counterparts, completion of the FAFSA form is recognized as a major barrier for students and their families as they struggle to understand how to finance their college educations. Students who fill out the FAFSA are 50 percent more likely to attend college.
Financial coaches also ensure students understand all their financial aid options with the goal of having better-informed students and families who can gain the financial support necessary to make higher education a reality. Participating organizations are also forging partnerships with local schools to become a trusted resource students can turn to for college financial questions, as well as working with local nonprofits to introduce young people to college as a viable option.
In addition to their financial support for Financial Aid U, more than 100 Citi employees will be volunteering their time and putting their financial expertise to work helping students complete their FAFSAs at Financial Aid U program sites across the country.
The following NCTC members are participating in Financial Aid U this year:
Baltimore Cash Campaign, Baltimore, MD
Boston Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition, Boston, MA
Campaign for Working Families, Philadelphia, PA
Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, San Jose, CA
Center for Economic Progress, Chicago, IL
The Financial Clinic, New York City, NY
Human Services Coalition, Miami, FL
Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, Hempstead, NY
Mission Economic Development Agency, San Francisco, CA
Newark Now, Newark, NJ
About the National Community Tax Coalition
A project of the Center for Economic Progress, the National Community Tax Coalition (NCTC) works to create a more accessible and equitable tax system for American workers. Our network of organizations provides critical, on-the-ground financial services for working families. NCTC represents the 4,500 community Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites nationwide that collectively prepare an estimated 3 million tax returns for low- and moderate-income workers. Community tax preparers offer a high-quality choice – one that’s free, accessible, and equipped to help families claim their full refund and all the credits to which they are entitled. We actively seek to broaden the reach and impact of community tax preparers and are a leading voice in Washington, DC for low-wage workers and against unfair financial practices. We believe that together, we can strengthen economies, build communities and improve life for all American families.
Citi, the leading global financial services company, has approximately 200 million customer accounts and does business in more than 160 countries and jurisdictions. Through Citicorp and Citi Holdings, Citi provides consumers, corporations, governments and institutions with a broad range of financial products and services, including consumer banking and credit, corporate and investment banking, securities brokerage, transaction services, and wealth management.
About the Citi Foundation
The Citi Foundation is committed to the economic empowerment and financial inclusion of low- to moderate-income individuals and families in the communities where we work so that they can improve their standard of living. Globally, the Citi Foundation targets its strategic giving to priority focus areas: Microfinance, Enterprise Development, College Success, and Financial Capability and Asset Building. In the United States, the Citi Foundation also supports Neighborhood Revitalization programs. The Citi Foundation works with its partners in Microfinance, Enterprise Development, and Neighborhood Revitalization to support environmental programs and innovations.