From the Illinois Student Assistance Commission: 


While students are struggling nationwide with remote education and college plans seem to be more up in the air than ever, there is some good news in Illinois: Illinois closed out the year ranking the #1 state for completions of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), the form most students use to apply for federal and state financial aid for postsecondary education. 

Helping to ensure that more Illinois students have the funds to follow a path to education after high school has become increasingly difficult in the midst of a pandemic that is challenging every aspect of our daily lives. To address some of the pandemic-related challenges facing high schools and graduating seniors in completing financial aid applications for next fall, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) is adding new initiatives to its college outreach programs. From targeted outreach and one-on-one assistance to students and families, to online financial aid modules that teachers can use with their students, the state’s college access and financial aid agency is committed to providing free statewide supports for students and schools.

“With many students and families facing illness and loss of loved ones, financial distress, and all the challenges of remote learning, it can be hard to handle the now, much less consider the future,” said Eric Zarnikow, executive director of ISAC. “But as we look to better days ahead for next fall, we want to make sure our high school seniors and adult students have applied for and can receive the financial aid for which they are eligible. Knowing what funding you have available for postsecondary education is an important milestone in making that education happen.”

Indeed, ensuring that students have this important information drove passage of the state’s FAFSA Mandate. This new law, which took effect with the 2020-2021 school year, requires public high school seniors to complete the FAFSA or, if eligible, the Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid, as a prerequisite to receiving a high school diploma. (A waiver provision allows a parent, guardian, or the student – if 18 or emancipated – to opt out of the requirement.) Information about FAFSA Mandate training and support for school counselors and other professionals is available at https://www.isac.org/pd/fafsa-mandate.html.

Making completion of a financial aid application part of an expectation for high school graduation can increase the number of students who are aware of the resources available to help them afford education or training after high school. This information can also help some students decide to attempt college when they might not otherwise have done so, and it may help some students limit student loan debt and take a fuller course load to more quickly complete a degree or credential.

While ISAC already provides free college planning and financial aid workshops and one-on-one assistance for students during the annual College Changes Everything® (CCE) fall campaign and throughout the year, the agency is extending its outreach and supports to help address the many obstacles for students created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to meet the state’s new FAFSA Mandate. ISAC has hosted over 750 online financial aid workshops with school partners, as well as 13 statewide virtual financial aid completion workshops since September 2020, with more scheduled in 2021. As high schools focus their efforts on remote learning and keeping connected with students, ISAC is reaching out directly to schools that previously participated in the CCE campaign and is offering the following free supports statewide:

• Online financial aid completion workshops for students and parents. See studentportal.isac.org/events for statewide virtual events.
• Individual assistance to students and parents in completing financial aid applications, via web conferencing, phone, text, or email. Contact your local ISACorps member for free assistance: studentportal.isac.org/isacorps. Sign up for ISAC’s free text messaging app to get college/financial aid questions answered via text: isac.org/collegeqa.
• ISAC’s FAFSA Completion Initiative and direct outreach to students. ISAC’s FAFSA Completion Initiative offers Illinois school districts a way to identify students who have not submitted either a FAFSA or Alternative Application. The application completion information – updated on a weekly basis – can be used by district counselors to help reach students who may need assistance or encouragement to complete an application. To support busy school counselors and with school permission, ISAC can directly reach out to and assist students who have not completed a FAFSA. Find out more at https://www.isac.org/home/fafsa/index.html 
• Financial Aid Online Learning Module for classrooms. ISAC is developing an online learning module for schools to use as part of their remote learning curriculum, which includes a video and a learning packet.
• QR code for outreach to students and families. To improve outreach to students and families during the pandemic, ISAC will be introducing a QR code that links to simple and accessible information for students and families about how to get free assistance with financial aid applications. ISAC is partnering with several schools to pilot a program that will affix stickers with this QR code to free and reduced meal boxes and printed learning materials. Students and families will be able to scan the QR code with their phones to access the information.

“We want to make sure every high school senior and adult student in Illinois knows that completing a financial aid application is a critical step for their future,” said Jacqueline Moreno, ISAC’s director of College Access and Outreach. “We can help make the application process fairly quick and easy for most students.”

ISACorps members are available throughout the state offering free assistance to help students and families complete and submit an application. Find your ISACorps member at studentportal.isac.org/isacorps.

D211 Post: Hoffman Estates HS Seniors Encourage Peers

            When Hoffman Estates High School senior Kelly Adusah saw a short video on the app Tic Toc talking of strength and perseverance, she was inspired to build on that for her fellow HEHS seniors.  The result was a collaborative video that included more than 60 of her classmates telling everyone to be strong.

            Adusah said she and her friends had been feeling sad about the possibility of missing traditional senior events such as prom and graduation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Kelly Adusah wanted to spread a message of perseverance to her fellow seniors.

            “A lot of friends were talking about how upset they were to be missing out on everything,” she said.  “I wanted to show them that we are a strong class, and we can get through anything.”

            While Adusah said that part of the script used was from the short video she had seen, she saw the need to add more to demonstrate her generation’s perseverance.  Once the script was completed, she and her friends selected which parts they would record.  Adusah then compiled all of the videos and completed the project.

            She stated that the message of the video is strength.

            “We are all 10 times stronger than we seem to be,” she said.  “Everything is hard right now, but we are so much stronger if we stay positive.”

              View the video below.

D211 Post: Ending on a New Tradition

More than 250 Seniors from Palatine and William Fremd High School took part in the first ever District 15 / District 211 Senior Walk where seniors walked the halls of the elementary schools where their education began. 

William Fremd senior Matt Downing said it was great to walk the halls again of Hunting Ridge.

“It was amazing seeing the little kids,” he said.  “It was really something remembering being that young.  Life seemed simple then.”

For Palatine High School senior Megan Farrell, seeing elementary students was very reflective.

“It was something to see the little kids,” she said.  “It’s hard to imagine that at one time I was that kid.”

Palatine High School will hold their graduation ceremony at the school May 19th at 2 p.m.  William Fremd High School will hold their graduation  at the Sears Center May 20th at 7:30 p.m.