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.
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.