MISA Helps Families Relieve the Burden of Financial Aid for College

In the complex landscape of navigating college entry, the thought of financing a college education has long loomed as one of the biggest barriers for many people in Michigan. Even with an understanding of grants, loans, and scholarships for students, there still exists a level of intimidation for students, parents, and caregivers when it comes to filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

But that’s where Michigan Student Aid (MISA) comes into play.

As a division within the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential (MiLEAP), MISA is committed to breaking down barriers for Michigan students seeking higher education. Through a variety of state financial aid programs, resources, and informational outreach, MISA strives to make college accessible to all.

Annually, MISA disburses nearly $200 million to more than 80,000 students, making higher education a reality for countless individuals across the state. However, this impactful work wouldn’t be possible without the collaborative efforts of various stakeholders, including high school counselors, college access professionals, and community members who help to inform and lead students and prospective students to the resources that exist to help them to remove this hurdle.

One of the easiest ways to help relieve some of the financial stressors of paying for college is to complete the FAFSA.

According to Chad Somerville, outreach manager for the MiLEAP, there are a lot of misconceptions associated with the FAFSA process.

“The biggest misconception we often hear students and families say is that they aren’t going to complete their FAFSA because they won’t be offered any financial aid anyways. However, most students qualify for some sort of financial aid, even if that is just a student loan,” Somerville said.

“FAFSA is free to complete and is often a gatekeeper for institutional and outside scholarships. Failing to do your FAFSA can cause a student to lose out on free money from us here at the state of Michigan, their college, university or even local organizations.”

He added that it is always a good idea to complete the FAFSA each year even if a student only qualifies for loans and does not want to take them.

“People need to be reminded that they must fill out a FAFSA every year, not just once. I think that misconception is there because they think you only apply once, but your financial situation can change year to year,” Somerville said.

State officials at MISA have been working hard over the years to make the FAFSA process easier and simpler for families. As a result of their work, filling out the FAFSA has become a much faster process than in years past. To complete the 2024-25 FAFSA you may need:

  • Your parents’ SSNs if you’re a dependent student
  • Tax returns
  • Records of child support received
  • Current balances of cash, savings, and checking accounts
  • Net worth of investments, businesses, and farm

“Probably the biggest determinant is the FAFSA application, which is the most important step in the financial aid process and the subsequent Student Aid Index (SAI) that is calculated. Many types of aid that are need-based use the SAI as a gauge to determine how much and what type of aid a student receives,” Somerville notes. “However, it’s not solely about need-based aid, merit-based scholarships also play a significant role. Somerville adds, “Whether or not the student does a little extra legwork to apply for institutional and outside scholarships can also have a substantial impact on the amount of financial aid that a student receives.”

Somerville highlights the versatility of federal and state aid, which can cover expenses beyond tuition fees. “Federal and state financial aid may be used for college costs outside of tuition costs,” he says. “Many students use their Pell Grants or student loans to help pay for housing, books and even gas to get to class if they commute.”

MISA even offers free informational webinars for Michiganders to help navigate the financial aid world, including an upcoming virtual seminar scheduled for April 18, 2024, at 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. and accessible through Michigan.gov.

MISA is also heavily promoting its Michigan Achievement Scholarships, designed to help recent high school graduates receive funds for continuing education. Eligible students could receive financial aid to attend a college or university with the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, or for a career training program with the Michigan Achievement Skills Scholarship.

For students seeking to attend a college or university, qualified applicants could receive:

  • Up to $2,750 to attend a Michigan community college, per year, up to three years
  • Up to $4,000 to attend a Michigan private college or university, per year, up to five years
  • Up to $5,500 to attend a Michigan public university or enroll in a four-year degree program at a Michigan community college, per year, up to five years

For people seeking career training, qualified applicants could receive:

  • Up to $2,000 per year for up to two years
  • An industry-recognized certificate
  • A faster track to a high-paying career

In essence, MISA serves as a beacon of opportunity for Michigan students, providing essential financial support and resources to pave the way for their educational journey. While the journey starts with a now-simpler version of the FAFSA, the result could be a free college application or career training and unlocking endless career opportunities through education.

Through collaborative efforts and a steadfast commitment to accessibility, MISA continues to make strides in leveling the playing field and ensuring that all students have the chance to pursue higher education and fulfill their potential.

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