The pilot program in San Antonio aims to get every high school senior to complete free applications for federal student aid, commonly known as FAFSA, according to the San Antonio Express News (http://bit.ly/TvE90W). The district has counselors help students with that effort.
District officials say it could be a model for the rest of the state following the implementation of House Bill 34, which was passed in 2011 and is one of several measures designed to increase students' financial competency as college tuition costs increase. A growing number of students are expected to need scholarships, grants and assorted loans to pay for college.
"I think we have more of a focus on college entrance and completion now for all students and awareness that the jobs for the future require more than just a high school degree," said Roxanne Rosales, executive director of academic support for the San Antonio Independent School District, who is overseeing the program's early stages.
For many, financial aid is the first step to college, Rosales said. She said that completing an FAFSA application is actually a better indicator of college enrollment than scores on entrance exams like the SAT and ACT.
The San Antonio district is still working on curriculum for the pilot program, but it saw a jump of 16 percentage points in high school seniors planning to enroll in college last year after hiring a team of part-time FAFSA counselors.
The district says 74 percent of students graduating in 2011 planned to enroll at a community college or had been accepted into a university. By 2012, the proportion had increased to 90 percent.
A recent report by the Institute for College Access and Success, an independent nonprofit that tracks student debt nationally, found that in 2011, graduates with student loans had an average debt of $26,600.
Eyra Perez, executive director of the San Antonio Education Partnership, said teaching students how to apply for FAFSA is only the first step.
Her organization and San Antonio's Financial Aid Council are developing financial literacy lessons in a partnership with SAISD that will debut next month in district economics classes.
The lessons are designed to take four or five days to teach and offer instruction on how to analyze financial aid packages, how best to estimate the real cost of college and what students can expect to earn in various career fields.
"Our ultimate goal is not just to have them fill out FAFSA, but for them to have the tools to really finance their education," Perez said.
Nine counselors hired by SAISD will be back in the district's high schools next month and plan to work through the summer.