Answering Federal Student Aid Questions in Chicago

CHICAGO – Parents and students voiced questions about federal funding for college, and got some answers in an informal town hall meeting with Assistant Secretary of Postsecondary Education Eduardo Ochoa at Mather High School on Chicago’s north side last Friday. The forum followed Secretary Arne Duncan’s return to his hometown on the final day of his 3-day “Education and the Economy” Back-to-School Bus Tour.

Eduardo Ochoa at Mather High School in Chicago

The discussion was thoughtful and diverse, with topics ranging from the newly simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to President Obama’s strong support for preserving maximum Pell Grant awards at $5,550.  Ochoa was also able to clear up some misconceptions about Federal Student Aid.

In response to a students’ question about funding for Pell Grants, he noted that the discretionary funding that Congress approves each fiscal year is “just an estimate.”

“We will grant a Pell Grant to every eligible applicant,” he said. “There is no cap.  We never shut that window.”

In response to a parent’s complaint that the FAFSA application didn’t realistically reflect his ability to pay for his children’s college education, Ochoa highlighted resources to help parents, including 1-800-4-FED-AID, the Federal Student Aid Information Center.

Rich Blasen, Chicago-based staffer of FSA’s Student Experience Group, also encouraged parents and students with similar issues to consult college financial aid offices, which “can look more in depth at families’ specific situations.”

Ochoa urged students and parents to fill-out the FAFSA, noting that a much higher percentage of students who fill out the form end up going to college than those who don’t.

Ochoa and Blasen were joined by Jim Manning, Chief of Staff for Federal Student Aid, Aarti Dhupelia, Interim Officer of the Office of College and Career Preparation for Chicago Public Schools and several other FSA and CPS officials for the forum.


  1. I am a student at Saint Leo University which is a private college, and thought that I was paying for a better education along with quicker responces to questions. I was wrong. Has every school in the country turned to money hungry people whom do not care about the students well being. Times are tough all over and single moms, laid off dads, stay at home moms that are students should not have to track down there student refunds checks if they are in possitive need for the money. Why did the Federal government give the school 15 days to disburse refund checks to the students school just seem to take advantage of it by giving the excuses of it takes to much time and no enough man power well I challedge you to put people to work and give them a job and get HELP disbursing money. It is that simple….

    • My school will not disburse my federal pell grant money to me before my loans in which makes no sense at all. Loans go to the school like clock work. Grants you must reapply for every year because it is based on household income only not acedemics.
      Isnt that correct

  2. Please take the time to review the structue of the FSA system before expanding it. At present, the ability to benefit requirement does not encourage inclusion of persons with disabilities. Each state seems to have used the liberal rule as a “rule out” of groups of participants. Additionally, If you want to use the FSA structure to aid in re-training the unemployed, you will obviously need to expand the types of training programs that qualify.

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