Alexander Mallin and Matthew Larotonda report:
ALEXANDRIA, Va., — First Lady Michelle Obama visited a Virginia high school Wednesday to highlight the benefits of seeking federal aid to help with the costs of higher education.
“Completing this form is a critical start to completing your education,” Obama said. “It’s the single most important thing you can do for your future.”
The Department of Education hosted the event along with “Get Schooled,” a non-profit organization founded by Viacom that provides students with resources and motivation to encourage them to enroll in college. Today’s event was focused on helping high school juniors and seniors with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
“Through FAFSA the Department of Education provides more than $150 billion every year in low interest loans, in grants that you don’t have to pay back, and work-study programs that can help cover your educational expenses,” she said, adding that many third-party scholarship programs use the FAFSA as a basis for eligibility. “Parents, don’t leave money on the table.”
The First Lady was joined by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, a Washington suburb, where counselors were coaching students through the FAFSA process.
According to the Department of Education, more than one million high school seniors don’t fill out the FAFSA, many of whom would be eligible for the federal Pell Grant. The first lady and Secretary Duncan noted many of those families were wary of the perceived high cost of high education.
“Not all of you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth,” Duncan said. “I don’t care how much money you have or you don’t have, or your family has or doesn’t have, college can be a possibility for you.”
Duncan said his department’s eventual goal would be to get rid of the FAFSA altogether, and find a way to show students their eligibility for federal aid by automatically tying the program to their parent’s or guardian’s income tax returns.
Edom Tesfa, a senior at T.C. Williams, introduced the First Lady by announcing her recent FAFSA submission, and said it may be a deciding factor in where she chooses to go to college.
“I applied to Georgetown and the University of Virginia and the good news is, I was accepted to both schools,” Tesfa said. “I like Georgetown better, but my wallet doesn’t. That’s where the FAFSA comes in.”
Duncan and Obama met with students for more than an hour in the workshop. The public high school is one of Virginia’s largest, with over 2,500 students enrolled, according to the school district.