ON THE AGENDA | JULY 11TH, 2011 | Allison Rizzolo

Don't Know Much About FAFSA

What does "FAFSA" mean to you?

What does "FAFSA" mean to you?

Were you able to recognize the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the gateway paperwork to both federal and institutional aid? If not, youíre not alone: a full half of all young adultsóthose who benefit directly from the FAFSAódonít know what it is, according to a new Public Agenda survey, One Degree of Separation: How Young Americans Who Don't Finish College See Their Chances for Success. Whatís more, among young people with only high school diplomas, less than three in 10 know that FAFSA has something to do with financial aid.

The survey, the third in a series probing young people's attitudes on higher education and college completion, examined the views of more than 600 young adults aged 26 to 34 years old, both those who completed either a college degree or postsecondary certificate and those whose highest credential is a high school diploma.

Last month we told you how, among participants in the first survey of this series, seven in 10 of those students who left college before getting a degree did not have financial aid or scholarships. Meanwhile, previous Public Agenda research shows that the public's belief that a college education is necessary to get ahead is rising. These knowledge gaps about how to find help to pay for school, then, can be fatal hurdles for young people.

Itís not that young people with only a high school diploma donít want to pursue higher education. Among participants in One Degree of Separation, nearly 4 in 10 say they've given "a lot of thought" to going back to school. And students who donít have a college diploma are less confident about their financial future: only 36 percent of high school graduates say it's "very likely" they'll be financially secure in their lifetime, compared to 55 percent of college graduates.

Yet, while high school graduates admit to doubts about their financial future without a college degree, they are also greatly skeptical that going into debt for college would be worth it. Only 37 percent of high school graduates "strongly agree" that, even if you have to take out a loan, going college is worth it in the long run. Some 54 percent of college graduates strongly agree. Among both groups, almost nine in 10 agree that students have to borrow too much money to pay for college.

What do you think? Did you or your children complete the FAFSA form? Do students these days have to take out too much money to pay for college? Is a college education worth it in the long run?

The complete One Degree of Separation report, including full survey details and methodology, is available at www.publicagenda.org/onedegreeofseparation. Previous surveys in this series, which was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, revealed other critical hurdles that keep young people from completing their education, such as the difficulty of juggling school, work and family life; and the limited counseling many students receive. Have a look at the reports in the series and weigh in on your thoughts here.


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