ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. (WFLA) — When she graduates in May 2024, Liana Billey plans to be the first person in her family to go to college. But the cost of that education is standing in her way.
“I come from a really low income family,” Billey explained. “So having the money to go to college would really help me pursue what I want to do when I’m older.”
The Northeast High School senior wants to get a business or finance degree and eventually catapult herself into the C-suite of a business, ideally as the CFO. Her money knowledge started a while ago and continued Monday, as she made her FSA ID during school along with a handful of other seniors.
“My mom lives paycheck to paycheck,” said JonMauri Jackson, another Northeast senior. “She still has student loans to pay off, so she encourages me to not go through that.”
Both Jackson and Billey know the power and possibility of federal student aid, and both want to use it to continue their education.
This year, some big changes are coming to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA — more money and fewer questions.
“The number of questions has been greatly reduced,” said Brooke Pair, financial aid counselor for Pinellas County Schools. “We’re really looking at seeing more students be eligible for financial aid with this new system.”
According to Pinellas County Schools, Florida students leave $300 million on the table every year by not completing FAFSA.
“So even if, maybe in the past, they haven’t been eligible or been limited in eligibility,” Pair said. “With the new formulas, it could definitely change.”
The district is urging students to take the free money. The FSA IDs made today are the first step toward finishing FAFSA later this year.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, because student loans have no preference,” Jackson said. “They go for everyone. No one’s exempt for them, so just get as many as you can and save up.”
Billey knows that as well.
“Take advantage of the money,” she said. “It’s a very big amount that can help a lot of kids succeed instead of them having to leave college because of the student debt that they’re in.”
The FAFSA application will open in December 2023.