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Counselors To Class Of 2012: 'Fill Out FAFSA'

Phyllis Fletcher

Washington state lawmakers are returning to the capital today to begin their 60–day legislative session. They face the task of closing a roughly $1 billion budget shortfall. In addition to weighing budget cuts and a potential sales tax increase, lawmakers will also address big–ticket social issuses. Those include gay marriage and marijuana legalization.

Education spending will also be a hot topic, and this month, you might see posters at the library or high school about FAFSA, the standard form to apply for financial aid in college. Counselors and volunteers are setting up events for high–school seniors to fill the forms out now. One reason for the push is Washington state has not been able to keep up with demand for grant money. KUOW's Phyllis Fletcher explains.


Alyson Rotter is a counselor who tries to get kids to fill out that financial aid form. She says there's a scholarship out there for everything.

Rotter: "There's a duct tape scholarship, where students make their prom outfit out of duct tape and they can actually win a scholarship for creativity in that regard."

So it's not all about grades.

Rotter says the biggest barrier kids and parents have with financial aid — and the financial aid form — is misinformation, especially when a kid is the first in their family to go to college.

Rotter: "There's a big fear of not only the process, but also what's available to them. So they think that there's really nothing out there, there's no possible way that they could go to college. So it's really misinformation or lack of information."

It could be that some information they've heard is intimidating. Like if they know one of the 29,000 low–income students in Washington who missed out on state grants last year, even though they qualified.

That figure comes from the Washington state Higher Education Coordinating (HEC) Board. The HEC Board spokesperson is Gary Larson.

Larson: "Although the Legislature last year provided additional money to cover tuition increases, we're finding that the demand for the state need grant is exceeding the supply of available dollars."

Larson says every college has its own formula for awarding that money to students, and that it can only help to get in line now and to look for private scholarships. The HEC Board helps run a scholarship search website, called The Washboard.

This is the first year Washington state will pay up on a new scholarship called "College Bound." Students in that program are low–income, and signed up when they were in middle school. If everyone who signed up stays eligible and goes to college this year, that's 16,000 tuitions the state will help pay starting this fall. Larson says the HEC board is confident it has enough money to get all eligible students through their first two years.

After that, it's up to the state Legislature. Their session starts this week.

I'm Phyllis Fletcher, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW