Gov. Mike DeWine made this assertion in his inaugural address three years ago, and as Ohio’s education agency chief executives, we couldn’t agree more.
Every Ohioan deserves the chance to work at a good-paying job, to raise a family comfortably, and to be secure in his or her future. One of the ways Ohioans achieve these goals is by continuing their education beyond high school.
This can take many forms: learning a valued skill at a technical center, earning an associate degree at a community college, or choosing to pursue a bachelor’s degree and beyond at any one of Ohio’s dozens of colleges and universities.
One key to maximizing this opportunity is accessing financial aid. Education can be much more affordable than many people may believe.
We want Ohio families to have maximum opportunity and to be supported with Pell grants, Ohio College Opportunity Grants, and institutional scholarships.
Yes, you can get federal grants to attend an Ohio technical center.
In fact, a higher percentage of students at Ohio technical centers benefit from federal Pell grants than at our colleges. Pell grants are not just for traditional college and university settings; they are also for students in advanced manufacturing, welding, fire/EMS, and more.
If students want financial aid, they must apply using a form called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA. It may not surprise you to learn that nationally – and in Ohio – FAFSA completion rates dropped 10% or more since the start of the pandemic.
Each year, Ohio students forfeit more than $80 million in free grants for further education. Stated differently, Ohioans are leaving $80 million on the table each year – money they could have accessed by completing a FAFSA.
Specifically, our school boards, superintendents, parent-teacher associations, school counselors, higher education institutions, and our libraries and local nonprofits all play a role in ensuring Ohio students do not pass up opportunities to reach their educational goals.
If we let a promising young student whose education has been disrupted by COVID skip completing the FAFSA, that could be the difference between that student pursuing and not pursuing postsecondary education. Statistics show that it is difficult to get students to return to education once they’ve stopped.
Conversely, students who complete the FAFSA are 84% more likely to enroll in postsecondary education and training programs. Making them aware of the potential opportunities the FAFSA can provide is critical.
Prior to DeWine’s efforts, Ohio didn’t invest in a FAFSA completion campaign. Today, we are working with dozens of nonprofits across the state: the Ohio School Counselors Association, and with access organizations such as I Know I Can, College Now, Dayton Learn to Earn, and Toledo Tomorrow to increase FAFSA completion numbers in Ohio and strengthen student opportunity.
What could completing the FAFSA be worth to you and your family?
On the federal side alone, students could receive up to $6,495 per year for up to six years in Pell grants (which don’t have to be repaid), or possibly a free education through programs at a number of our colleges and universities.
When you add in the Ohio College Opportunity Grant, which Gov. DeWine’s administration increased to as much as $4,000, this aid can help many Ohioans make their dreams a reality.
To learn more about FAFSA completion or to start a campaign in your local school district, visit the FAFSA IS FOR YOU campaign website, itsforyou.org, a joint initiative of the Ohio Department of Higher Education and the Ohio Department of Education.
Randy Gardner is chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education. Stephanie Siddens is interim state superintendent of the Ohio Department of Education.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Randy Gardner, Stephanie Siddens on money available for college in Ohio