Wednesday, March 7, 2012

College Goal Wisconsin

Today, we have a report of a fascinating program for college bound students from Laurie Bartz, Young Adult Librarian, Hedberg Public Library, Janesville, WI.

U hafta fafsa at college goal wi on Sat at 2:00 p.m. @YourPubLib. Bring parent, enter to win up to $1000 scholarship #highschoolmascot2012.
OK, so high school seniors probably didn’t really tweet a message like this to their friends, but they definitely did attend College Goal Wisconsin (CGW) at 29 sites throughout the state on February 18 & 19.  CGW is sponsored by the Wisconsin Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators and is designed to address the needs of low-income and first-generation college students who are completing and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is required to apply for federal student aid, such as federal grants, loans, and work-study. The FAFSA is also used to apply for most state and college aid, in addition to some private financial aid.  
I first learned about College Goal Wisconsin during a discussion with a local high school guidance counselor about ways the public library could support the district’s efforts in encouraging high school students to pursue higher education.  College Goal sounded like a perfect fit.  While it was too late in the year to be part of the official program, we were able to hold our own FAFSA Completion Event through a partnership with Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corp.  Then in 2010, Hedberg Public Library in Janesville was added as an official CGW site.  Other sites include universities, technical colleges and high schools in various locations. 
Preparation for a College Goal Wisconsin or FAFSA completion event can begin as much as a year in advance.  Hosting an event of this type will require support from library administration and key departments such as Youth Services, Computer Systems and Public Information.  Establishing a partnership with higher education financial aid advisors or a group like College Goal Wisconsin is a must right from the start!  Clearance for the use of a large meeting space and several computers must be made well in advance as well as permission to use computers from other organizations, if needed.  
Our volunteers included college financial aid advisors, student services representatives, reference and young adult librarians, a bilingual outreach coordinator, computer systems manager and two college students.  Training sessions for volunteers were offered prior to the event that highlighted the FAFSA IRS retrieval system as well as line-by-line instructions for the FAFSA. 
While I did tweet a message or two and posted a Facebook event as College Goal approached this year, most of our publicity was more traditional.  Once the materials provided by CGW were approved for distribution to students, information about our event was included in daily announcements and emails to high school seniors.  Posters lined the walls of classrooms and flyers were available in guidance offices, libraries and charter schools. CGW water bottles and other freebies were given to seniors at area school Financial Aid Nights in January. 
On the day of CGW at our library, volunteers arrived early for instructions, assignments and pizza!  In order to accommodate everyone, laptops from our library system and additional computers were set up ahead of time.  Computers were networked for printing and shortcuts to the FAFSA and student survey were placed on desktops. Registration for students and families opened and we were off to a great start. Following a brief presentation at the start of CGW, students completed their FAFSA forms in computer labs with the help of volunteer FAFSA advisors. Over 80 participants attended CGW in Janesville this year and one lucky student will receive a $350 scholarship after enrolling in college in fall 2012. Students across Wisconsin took a major step toward pursuing their goals of higher education.
A few weeks after CGW, a One-on-One College Access Advising Session was held in our computer lab with Tou Ya Khang, College Access Advising Project Coordinator at Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation.  Students and families received help with questions about financial aid, applications and admissions, the FAFSA and scholarships.  In addition to its U HAFTA FAFSA campaign, Great Lakes offers several Next Stop College programs for high school students and their parents. 
And finally, I just discovered FAFSA on Twitter I think I’m ready to start planning for next year’s event!

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