Helping Iowa Students and Families Pay for College

Over the course of this month, you’ll hear from financial aid experts about how their organizations are tackling this incredibly important step in the college-going process.

What is Iowa College Aid?

Iowa College Aid is the state agency focusing on Iowans achieving an education beyond high school. We advocate for and support Iowans as they explore, finance, and complete education opportunities beyond high school to increase family and community success.

How does your organization help students, particularly those from underserved communities, to financially prepare for college?

At Iowa College Aid, we focus on an ecosystems approach through community engagement work, which wraps around our state’s educational attainment needs. This includes direct work with students and families via school-based coaches through GEAR UP and our College Access and Success Corps.

We also build school and individual capacity around equity in postsecondary opportunities and building a college-going culture through our Course to College and Iowa College and Career Academy programs.

Lastly, we support communities through our Local College Access Network grant series. Through these grants, we guide communities through building a collective impact approach to multi-sector engagement in increasing college attainment.

Iowa College Aid also administers all state financial aid. We have various aid programs for particular groups of students, like foster care youth, and particular areas of study, that the Kibbie Grant and Last Dollar Scholarship support. Students receiving aid in these programs are graduating earlier, alleviating a longer need for the expenses to be covered.

What’s the most common question that students ask about how to pay for college? How do you answer this question?

Students often ask, “How am I going to pay for this (college)?” Or, “How is this affordable?” We respond with, “File a Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), including the Iowa Financial Aid Application, and know what funds you are eligible to receive. That knowledge will help you make an affordable decision.”

We are also aware that many students hit roadblocks when they try to complete their FAFSA or that they are unable to complete one. Through our various programs, we work with school counselors to assist students in finding other aid options and/or help students work through their obstacles to complete the FAFSA. As a state, we have more people trained in FAFSA completion, more completion events being held, and more people working directly with students and families to assist them in completing a FAFSA than we ever have before. It is actually a great time to be completing the FAFSA because of how many resources and assistance now exists to help students, and families work through this form.

What advice would you give your 16-year-old self about how to finance your college education?

If I could give any advice to my 16-year-old self about how to finance my college education, I would say to ask questions and don’t be ashamed if they seem “silly.” If you are the first person in your family going to college, it is a new venture and you should not be worried about asking the questions you have, no matter how miniscule you think they might be. Ultimately, you need to make the decisions that are best for you.

I would also tell myself to file the FAFSA, even though it is a grueling process and you have to work with your parent/guardian to get it done. You won’t know what type of aid you’re eligible for until it’s submitted. Once you know, you can plan better.

What other organization or agency deserves some recognition for the good work they do in this field?

In Iowa, there are many organizations that deserve recognition for the excellent work they do with students in getting them college and career ready; all TRIO and Upward Bound programs, Area Education Agency Postsecondary Readiness & Equity Partnership (AEA PREP), Iowa College Access Network (ICAN), school counselors, bridge programs, and many more. Nationally, the National College Access Network should be recognized as they offer research, advocacy, and professional development within this field.

Jamie Covell is a community engagement consultant at Iowa College Aid where she facilitates the Course to College program with Iowa high schools. She also serves as an American College Application Campaign state campaign coordinator for the Iowa College Application Campaign. Jamie is a first-generation student and very passionate about postsecondary education. She holds an MSW from the University of Michigan and a BSW from Loras College. Her professional experience has always involved program and volunteer management. In her spare time, Jamie enjoys eating, running, and traveling. She will be running her first marathon in June 2020 and has a travel goal to get to every national park, only 48 more to go!