NCAN-Member Directors on How to Engage Elected Officials in FAFSA Completion

July 28, 2017

By Courtney Argenti, Graduate Policy Intern

This spring, we hosted a webinar with NCAN member guests Paola Santana (Senior Director of Education and Workforce Development at Unite LA) and Thomas Butler (Director of Advancement & Operations at Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable) to share strategies for engaging elected officials in supporting district and statewide FAFSA completion efforts.  

Why is engaging elected officials important? According to Santana and Butler:

  1. It raises awareness about financial aid opportunities and FAFSA completion events.
  2. It builds support for funding need-based aid.  
  3. It helps elected officials understand what financial aid means for constituents. 

Here are five big takeaways from the webinar:

Do not be afraid to engage with your officials! Engagement is a win-win situation: a benefit for the community and for the officials themselves. It gets the word out about FAFSA events taking place by garnering media coverage, and it provides officials an opportunity to highlight the services they are providing within their districts. 

Utilize elected officials’ connection to media coverage. Butler explained how all elected officials have the power of media: “There’s a natural link with the media. We need to understand who they are connected to and how we bring them in.” 

The Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable utilized the links of city councilperson, Helen Gym and Council President, Darrell Clarke. Their collaboration paved the way for a partnership with Fox 29, who co-sponsored a live Financial Aid Phone-A-Thon on March 7. Fox 29 also provided extensive coverage of the Free Money 4 Philly event prior to and after it took place. 

Engage officials at in-person events and on social media. Both forms of engagement help raise awareness about FAFSA events and other resources for students and families. They also provide opportunities to engage with students and families—a powerful way to help officials understand students’ struggles and the importance of financial aid. 

Engagement also helps elected officials support their constituents. For example, when the number of California Dream Act applications plummeted due to widespread fear and uncertainty surrounding federal immigration policy changes, Unite LA, the California Student Aid Commission, and their partners mobilized elected officials to act through media and direct outreach. This partnership helped raise awareness about existing resources and protections in place to minimize fear and encourage students to apply for financial aid. 

Make it easy for elected officials to engage. Santana recommended a “Just add water approach”: Provide content and resources the officials need to participate, so it takes minimal effort for them to take part. 

The California Student Aid Commission, for example, provides their elected officials with a newsletter template to send to constituents about financial aid and financial aid events. Additionally, the student aid commission developed an online resource where college access programs, community organizations, and high schools can sign up to host FAFSA workshops. This resource contains a specific site for elected officials to easily locate FAFSA completion events in their district.  

Remember to thank officials for their support. If the elected officials support the community through sponsoring, attending or promoting FAFSA events, ensure that they receive support and recognition in return! Tweet about their participation, provide opportunities for them to speak at other events, and acknowledge them in press releases and advisories. This helps foster the cyclic advantages of officials’ engagement: increased awareness through media attention and reciprocal benefits for officials and the community.

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