Posted on Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Laurie Owens

Editor’s Note: Virginia lawmakers are considering Governor Northam’s G3 proposal, which could mean big changes in community college affordability for thousands of Virginians. But while the legislature deliberates, students and potential students still need to know about existing financial aid opportunities at our colleges.

By Laurie Owens, VCCS Director of Financial Aid

Each February, higher education professionals observe Financial Aid Awareness Month in an effort to inform students and families about access to federal, state, and institutional aid. This happens in February in order to prepare students for the process of applying for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which opens on October 1st of each year.

The Financial Aid Offices at our colleges are well aware of this celebratory month but this article serves to inform others in the VCCS community and to share more information as well as resources for learning more about financial aid.

The first step in applying for financial aid is filing the FAFSA or through the new federal student aid website at Students should file the FAFSA as soon as possible on or after October 1st of each year. Completing the FAFSA is easier than ever now that tax information can be pulled directly from the IRS right within the online application or mobile FAFSA app. As a result, students should no longer fear the FAFSA. You can play an important role in helping students by encouraging them to file their FAFSA early since many aid programs are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

Another crucial piece to the financial aid process is responding to college requests for additional information. Anywhere from 30-40% of our students are selected for a process called verification. As a result, they are required to submit additional documentation to complete their financial aid application. This might include submitting additional forms to verify specific information on the FAFSA or providing tax return transcripts if the IRS data retrieval tool was not utilized. Students should monitor their To Do List in the Student Center of SIS, which is where required items will be posted. Students will receive an email whenever new items are posted. If a student approaches you with questions or seems confused, please encourage them to reach out to their Financial Aid Office or contact the 24/7 Support Center.

The VCCS website offers basic information about financial aid. However, the individual college websites contain much more extensive information and should serve as the best reference point for students.

The Virginia Education Wizard is another great resource for financial aid information and tools. This site also houses our Net Price Calculator tool, which allows students to view estimated net price information (i.e., costs minus gift aid) based on what similar students paid in a previous year. The availability of such a tool is required by federal regulation and can be found here.  

The majority of our colleges provide a 24/7 Support Center to students to assist with their questions and concerns about their financial aid and student account. This supports live interactions via telephone, chat, and email and also provides self-service interactions through college specific self-help portals which contain a searchable custom-built knowledge base and a web case system.

Approximately 41% of our enrolled students applied for financial aid in Aid Year 2019. Let’s work together to increase that number by ensuring that students have access to important financial aid information and resources!'

Virginia's Community Colleges

Created more than 50 years ago, the VCCS is comprised of 23 community colleges located on 40 campuses across the commonwealth. Together, Virginia’s Community Colleges serve more than 270,000 students a year in credit and workforce courses.

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