Magazine article University Business

College Goal Sunday: This Annual Event Helps Get Families in Shape for the College Aid Process

Magazine article University Business

College Goal Sunday: This Annual Event Helps Get Families in Shape for the College Aid Process

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH NOT EVERYONE knows it, there are two Super Sundays each January. Super Bowl Sunday grabs millions of viewers, but College Goal Sunday is gaining ground. While the Super Bowl results in great fame for the winning team, something more important is being achieved on College Goal Sunday for students--a future with a college degree.

The college admissions process can be daunting. And navigating financial aid forms can frustrate even the most college-savvy family. For students whose parents never attended college, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can seem like a map to an unknown country written in a foreign language. Too often, the family drops out of the college admission process.

Research has shown that the mete availability of funds isn't enough to push these students over the threshold to higher education. Finding a way to keep them from being overwhelmed by the process is how College Goal Sunday got its start, in Indiana back in 1989. It's a joint project of the Indiana Student Financial Aid Association and the State Student Assistance Commission of Indiana, with funding from Lilly Endowment.

As word of Indiana's success spread, so did the program. In 2006, 26 states will offer College Goal Sunday. New states are seed-funded by a three-year Lumina Foundation for Education grant, allowing time for development and implementation. Since 2004, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) has managed the College Goal Sunday program.

A WINNING GAME PLAN

Over the years, the two main goals of the program have remained constant:

* Use a variety of channels to provide families with vital information about the availability of financial aid for postsecondary education, and

* Provide families with the expert assistance needed to complete the paperwork required to qualify for that aid.

Since January is prime FAFSA season, College Goal Sunday is generally scheduled for a Sunday a week or two after the NFL's Super Bowl (the exact date varies by state). During the events, financial aid professionals walk families through the entire FAFSA application step-by-step. By the time participants leave, they know how to apply, what they are applying for, and the next steps they must take to stay on track to qualify for funding.

The concept behind these programs is simple, but it takes months of planning and creativity to achieve. Tasks include applying for the grant, pulling together a task force with collaborative partners, identifying suitable program sites, developing the program itself, launching a public information campaign, delivering the program, and assessing results. NASFAA provides states with assistance in all of these areas.

TEAMWORK COUNTS

Remarkably, each state's College Goal Sunday uses a workforce made entirely of volunteers. Financial aid administrators and admissions staff are an essential part of the process, helping to spread the word and giving of their time.

They are far from alone. Partners (such as the federal TRIO and Gear Up programs) work directly with the target population, helping families develop trust that can continue through the admissions process. High school guidance counselors have daily contact with students and parents and are the primary source of program information. Strategies also are designed to reach the growing population of adult students.

College Goal Sunday programs operate through state agencies, such as financial aid associations, guarantee agencies, colleges, or the state higher education commission. …

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