Tallahassee - The Florida Department of Education (DOE) is working to break down financial barriers for Florida students who want to go to college. For the third year in a row, Florida is hosting College Goal Sunday, a free statewide event that provides expert assistance filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a form needed to receive federal and state financial aid for college tuition. Florida's College Goal Sunday 2008 will be held the weekend of February 24th at sites serving all of Florida's 67 counties.
"We launched this program to help students who dream of going to college gain better access to millions of dollars in financial aid," said Commissioner Eric J. Smith, Florida Department of Education. "In just one day, anyone who wants to learn about the financial aid process can get one-on-one help from the experts."
Eighteen year-old Cheyenne McGregor spent a few hours at the College Goal Sunday event in the Tampa Bay area last year and walked away with free money in her pocket for college. The aspiring TV personality won a $500 on-site scholarship and qualified for financial aid after receiving help completing her FAFSA.
"Before I heard about College Goal Sunday, I wasn't sure I could afford college. The experts there answered all of my questions and told me about the average costs for books and tuition," Cheyenne explained. "With the help I received, I got money to go to Florida A&M University where I'm now a freshman in the School of Journalism. I was also excited to win the $500 scholarship drawing just for showing up."
Not only will students have a chance to win an on-site scholarship, they'll also receive credible and reliable information about grants, work study programs and scholarships to pay for college. Several companies are now using heavy television and radio advertisements to promise money for college tuition. Students or their parents may be tempted by these offers.
"Some programs saddle students with high-interest loans, which have to be paid back. We're different," said Chancellor Will Holcombe, of Florida's Community Colleges. "Our program is designed to help Florida's college bound students qualify for as much free money as they can through state and federal funds that don't come with a hefty price tag."
According to the Florida Office of Student Financial Assistance, college-bound students who complete the FAFSA could qualify for thousands of dollars in federal and state need-based financial aid.
"By getting access to free or low-interest money, students can reduce their exposure to high interest loans and huge debts after graduation," said Need Unit Director Cynthia Williams, Office of Student Financial Assistance.
In addition, national data provided by the Lumina Foundation shows that a large number of students who qualify for financial aid are not completing their FAFSA accurately and on time, which decreases their funding options. This is particularly true among students from low-income and minority households, or who are the first in their family to attend college.
To reach students from diverse backgrounds, the DOE is working with a number of community groups and multicultural organizations across the state to promote Florida's College Goal Sunday events. These groups include the Boys and Girls Club, the Florida High School Athletic Association and ENLACE Florida – a community-focused initiative designed to increase the number of minority students going to college.
"Many students face barriers that make it difficult for them to pursue an education past high school. We believe that Florida's College Goal Sunday removes many of these barriers and that is why we are helping spread the word," said Braulio Colon, Assistant Director of ENLACE Florida. "I applaud the Department of Education for tailoring this program to meet the needs of our diverse population with bi-lingual financial aid experts and materials translated into Spanish and Creole."
Florida's College Goal Sunday is meeting a need. Last year more than 4,600 students and families participated in College Goal Sunday events and many were from low-income and minority households. With help from its community partners, Florida's community colleges, some universities and high schools, the DOE expects to exceed that number the weekend of February 24th.
"Money is available for college, but if you've never been through the financial aid process, it can be overwhelming," said Chancellor Holcombe. "Florida's College Goal Sunday program is back to give students help in navigating the process."
College Goal Sunday will be in Jacksonville on Sunday, February 24, from 1 to 4 p.m. at FCCJ Advanced Technology Center, 401 W. State St. For more information, visit