Providence educators head to White House to discuss student aid

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – With First Lady Michelle Obama set to launch a public awareness campaigned aimed at encouraging teenagers to pursue higher education, a delegation of Providence educators will travel to the White House Wednesday to discuss strategies to help students afford college.

The daylong summit is part of the first lady’s Reach Higher initiative, a program that that focuses on boosting college enrollment and completion rates across the country. She will also travel to Akron, Ohio, to kick off her “Better Make Room” campaign with NBA superstar Lebron James.

The group from Providence includes: Angela Romans, Annenberg Institute for School Reform; Danielle Parrillo, Providence Public School District; Maria Carvalho, College Crusade; and Michael Joyce, Rhode Island’s Division of Higher Education. All are members of the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet (CYC).

“Partners in Providence are working together in new, data-driven ways to help young people get the money and information they need to go on to higher education,” Romans told WPRI.com. “We are excited that First Lady Obama’s Reach Higher initiative invited CYC members to the White House to share our successes and learn from others across the country.”

Providence has good reason to have a seat at the table in the discussion.

In 2014, Romans said, the CYC set a goal of raising completion rates of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in Providence from 67% to 73%. They ended up getting to 74% across the city. At Mount Pleasant High School, which historically has had among the lowest FAFSA completion rates in the city, 83% of graduating seniors completed the application.

Simply finishing the complicated federal aid form is a crucial step in the college-selection process. Romans said students are 50% more likely to attend college if they complete the FAFSA.

The Obama administration has made what it calls early financial aid a top priority in recent years, and simplifying the FAFSA was a key component of the strategy. On average, it takes families 20 minutes to complete to form, down from an hour before the president took office.

In September, Obama announced plans to allow students to begin applying for federal aid in October rather than January. Students will also have earlier access to tax information so they don’t have to wait for the end of tax season.

The first lady’s public awareness campaign will target students between the ages of 14 and 19, sometimes referred to Generation Z. The campaign will partner with media, businesses and philanthropic organizations, including Vine, College Humor, Pearson and Get Schooled.

In addition to reforming student aid, goals of the campaign include increasing Pell Grants and educational tax credits, helping students manage loan debt, improving community colleges and expanding college access.

Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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