Help with a daunting task

Just how much of an impact can one social media post have? Well, the staff in the University of Utah’s Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid learned it has the ability to position them as national higher education leaders and lead to an article in a national trade publication.

The U’s office and its staff were highlighted in the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators for their efforts to help simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) verification process for prospective and current students, and their parents—a process often seen as overwhelming.

And according to the National College Access Network, 1 in 5 low-income students selected for FAFSA verification will never complete the process, which requires additional documentation, in addition to FAFSA, proving the information submitted is accurate.

Earlier this year during a staff meeting in the U’s Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid to address what they can do to improve those numbers, financial aid counselor James Farnsworth proposed going into the community and hosting workshops specifically around verification—similar to what financial aid counselors were already doing for FAFSA—and since they know which students still needed to complete the verification process, they could directly contact those needing to complete the verification process.

The national recognition generated began with a simple Facebook message Executive Director Brenda Burke posted praising her team for thinking outside the box.

Her team began hosting several verification workshops and has plans to hold more this summer in different areas of the valley, outside of office hours and on the weekends.

“I think it's an important thing for us to go into the community in these off hours,” Burke said. “And it's exciting to be able to get outside of the red tape surrounding the financial aid process and be there to help these students and parents through a process that can feel daunting.”

And the reward for those involved is what makes the job worth it for many in the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid.

“I met with a single mom and her son during one of our verification workshops,” Farnsworth said. “Due to financial restraints, they were under the impression the university wasn’t an option for them, which wasn’t the case. The mom was in tears finding out that she could not only afford to have her son, who wanted to be a doctor, study at a top research institution but that he was also getting money to cover books and other things he’ll need.”

Marc Gangwer, associate director of operations for the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid, said he’s also encountered current students who don’t think they can afford to finish school.

“There was a student who was less than a year away from graduating and had become homeless,” Gangwer said. “Another department referred this student to our office. We were able to get him temporary housing on campus and find additional aid for him. There were additional resources and money available to him, given the current situation, that he wouldn’t have known about if he hadn’t been put in contact with us. He stayed in school and graduated.”

All the staff in the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid invite students to visit with them before making the decision that money is an obstacle to enrolling in classes. The office’s job is to help give the students all the information they need to make the best possible decision.

FAFSA verification workshops

Financial aid representatives will be available to assist you with the financial aid process, including completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and FAFSA verification.

We recommend bringing these items for the workshop:

  • Your 2017 tax return transcript. This can be requested at irs.gov.
  • 2017 1040’s for both the student and parent, if applicable.
  • 2017 W-2’s for both the student and parent, if applicable.

Events:

No RSVP is required.

University Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid
financialaid.utah.edu
financialaid@sa.utah.edu
801-581-6211

Unable to attend and need additional assistance? Contact the University of Utah Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid by email at financialaid@sa.utah.edu, by phone at 801-581-6211 or stop by during business hours (Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and Tuesdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.).