Five Cool Features for Counselors in the New Financial Aid Toolkit

Like a messy bookshelf, the Internet can be a frustrating and overwhelming place to search for information. Developed in response to requests from the counselor and college access communities, the Department of Education launched the Financial Aid Toolkit. Available at FinancialAidToolkit.ed.gov, the website is a “one-stop shop” aimed at guidance counselors and other advisers to help them prepare students for the process of planning and paying for a postsecondary education.

Whether you’ve already visited the Financial Aid Toolkit, or you’re just hearing about it for the first time, here are five helpful tips to get the most from the toolkit:

  1. Get a head start on helping students prepare for college. As you know, it’s never too soon for students to start identifying academic interests, understanding college costs, and planning for higher education. The toolkit’s Learn About Financial Aid section provides tips and resources for working with students through this planning process and includes videos, infographics, and publications such as the College Preparation Checklist, as well as updates on the FAFSA. You can also brush up on the basics of loan repayment. If you work with current student loan borrowers, this tool can serve as a resource to help you review with them the available options and help guide them toward a repayment plan that best meets their needs.
  1. Find resources to help make your event a success. Planning a financial aid night or FAFSA completion event? You can get tips and information on setting up an event, as well as resources to help make it a success. Our Conduct Outreach section also has other resources to help you reach students and spread the word about the availability of financial aid. You can find sample presentations and handouts on various financial aid topics, information on reaching specific audiences, such as parents, adult students, military families, and much more.
  1. Leverage Federal Student Aid’s social media content. Social media can be a great way to reach your students, but it can be challenging to come up with new content. The toolkit’s Social Media section shares content and resources to help meet your needs. We have suggested tweets and Facebook posts for FAFSA completion and loan repayment. We also provide information on how to leverage our content on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as our blog posts.
  1. Locate training online or in your area. If you’re looking for additional training for yourself, check out the Get Training section for information on training options provided by state and regional organizations. You can also explore the National Training for Counselors and Mentors (NT4CM) area to see if there’s a workshop near you, view a training webinar, and access training materials.
  1. Use the Search Resources section to find resources that meet your needs. Short on time or looking for something specific? Head straight to the Financial Aid Toolkit’s search option. We have consolidated Federal Student Aid’s resources into a searchable online database. You can see all our resources or filter the resources based on audience, topic, time of year, and type of resource.

The Department will continue updating the toolkit to include more information and resources. If you have any suggestions, you can use our Contact Us page to provide feedback. Now that you have access to resources covering the entire student financial aid lifecycle from preparing for college and applying for financial aid to repaying student loans, we strongly encourage you to explore this incredibly handy toolkit. Be sure to share and bookmark FinancialAidToolkit.ed.gov today.

Dan Griffin is a confidential assistant at the U.S. Department of Education

New Tools to Support Students in Preparing for College and a Call for Innovative Ideas

Last August, President Obama outlined an ambitious plan to increase value and affordability in postsecondary education. There were a number of commitments he made in his proposal, and, today, the U.S. Department of Education is announcing further action on the President’s initiatives.

LogoPresident Obama told students and families that helping to ensure their debt is manageable is a priority, and equipping counselors and advisers with the resources they need to help students prepare for higher education and understand college costs is a key component. To meet these goals, the Department has launched a “one-stop shop” for guidance counselors, college advisers, mentors and volunteers to assist students through the process of choosing and financing their higher education.

The Financial Aid Toolkit, available at FinancialAidToolkit.ed.gov, consolidates financial aid resources and content into a searchable online database. That makes it easy for individuals to quickly access the information they need to support students on their path to college, including details on how to apply for financial aid along with presentations, brochures and videos.

By equipping counselors and advisers with financial aid information in an easy-to-use format, we can help to ensure that current and potential students get the assistance they need to successfully navigate the process of planning and paying for a postsecondary education.

Request for input on college ratings

President Obama also directed the Department of Education to develop a ratings system to identify colleges that provide a good value and to increase college affordability information available to students.

This fall, Department officials have been traveling to cities across the country, listening to hundreds of students, parents, college leaders, state officials, education organizations and many others about their ideas on how to best craft a college ratings system that would better inform students and encourage institutions to improve.  This week the Department will submit a Request for Information (RFI) to publish in the Federal Register asking experts and researchers to weigh in.

This RFI will complement the ongoing engagement efforts to inform the development a college ratings system that is useful to students and takes into account the diversity of America’s colleges and universities. The Department will continue to encourage the public to share ideas through collegefeedback@ed.gov.

Call for new ideas and innovations in higher education

Another major component of President Obama’s plan is to encourage innovation. More Americans are looking for college options that offer a good education at an affordable price. Innovation offers the potential to dramatically reshape and improve postsecondary education in ways that increase value by raising quality and decreasing costs.  This is a pivotal moment, and we want to do all that we can to encourage responsible innovations in higher education that build on promising practices and develop an evidence base so that the highest-impact practices can be identified, replicated and eventually brought to scale.

To encourage innovation, the President directed the Department of Education to shine a light on effective, innovative practices and challenged leaders from across the nation to accelerate innovation and build on success. Further, he directed the Administration to encourage these ideas by removing regulatory hurdles, increasing access to federal databases and simplifying pathways to higher education.  To do so, the U.S. Department of Education will launch a limited number of “experimental sites” to test new ideas. This authority under Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA) allows the Secretary to waive specific Title IV, HEA requirements regarding the federal student financial assistance programs to allow for responsible innovations coupled with evaluations of their effectiveness. Today, we are asking the public, including the higher education community and others with a stake in a more educated workforce and society, to send us ideas for experimental sites.

We invite input from a diverse array of stakeholders on topics to spur responsible innovation that increases college value and affordability.  In August, President Obama identified several promising areas where innovative practices could do so. These include:

  • Enabling students to earn federal student aid based on how much they learn, rather than the amount of time they spend in class, including through competency-based programs that combine traditional credit-hour and direct assessment of student learning.
  • Enabling high school students to access Pell Grants to take college courses early so they can earn a degree in an accelerated time frame.
  • Allowing the use of federal student aid to pay for assessments when students seek academic credit for prior learning as part of a program of study.

These are just some of the many areas where innovative experiments could advance our evidence base about approaches to increasing college value and affordability. We look forward to receiving your additional ideas. For more information on how to submit an idea, please review this Federal Register notice or the Department’s Dear Colleague Letter. The deadline for submissions is Jan. 31, 2014.

The U.S. Department of Education seeks to launch experiments that allow innovation to flourish, while also protecting taxpayer resources and building the research base for what works. In all of the Department’s efforts to encourage innovation and enable colleges and universities to increase quality while reducing costs, we value the input and partnerships with the postsecondary education communities and stakeholders so ultimately, millions of Americans can access a high-quality higher education

Martha Kanter is the U.S. Under Secretary of Education and David Soo is the Senior Policy Adviser, Office of the Under Secretary

Partnering with Counselors to Reduce School Violence

Earlier this month a group of distinguished counselors, selected as finalists for the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) Counselor of the Year and their principals visited ED to share their thoughts on transforming the teaching profession and the critical role of the counselor in fostering students’ academic success, socio-emotional well-being and physical safety.

While national conversations about gun violence continue, school-based staff are faced with what to do now to deal with students’ academic, emotional and physical welfare each day. How do we identify students who need support? How do we go beyond just identifying the issues and provide our kids with the needed help? We may be overlooking our counselors and some of the solutions they could provide.

“I see us as a model of supporting teachers to help them continue their work,” said one school counselor, underscoring the importance of providing students not only with academic and career planning help, but also with emotional supports. Another counselor shared how she created a lesson on reactive emotions to parallel a science lesson on erupting volcanoes; another talked about teaching tech skills while researching bullying. Throughout the discussion, the school counselors highlighted how the social-emotional learning can complement the academic when teachers and counselors work together. Too often, they said, teachers “do not get to utilize the expertise that we have learned about human development.” They stressed that newer models for more “active” school counselors have moved beyond the scheduling duties many may remember from days past; but not everyone knows that.

One counselor described how her school uses their Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, to consider not just the academic concerns, but which students are not connected to their school (and why). “We spend time reflecting on what was happening with these particular students, and then create a plan for next steps,” she told us.

What makes these examples different is that the work of addressing school violence doesn’t just stay with one group on staff. A principal affirmed that, “You need to have all stakeholders at the table to have the conversation” so that everyone knows what to do when a concern surfaces.  Sometimes, negative incidents will occur when students know the teacher isn’t most present – in the halls or cafeteria, on the playground or school bus. And yet there are often other adults who are there, such as the custodial staff, support professionals, bus drivers, parent volunteers – and each of these members of the larger school community needs to know how to respond and whom to contact to make sure there is an appropriate resolution.

But in order for these teams to happen effectively, we need to better understand the role of the counselor. For counselors to really be able to make an impact, they need the opportunity to build relationships with students and staff, to use their expertise. And that takes time built into the school day and the willingness for everyone on staff to expect and allow our counselors, like teachers, to be educational leaders.

Jen Bado-Aleman

Jennifer Bado-Aleman is an English teacher on loan from her school in Gaithersburg, Md., while she serves as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the Department. Learn more about the President’s plan to make our schools safer, which includes resources that communities can use for hiring more school counselors.

The Top 10 Ways School Counselors Can Support Teachers

Editor’s note: We met middle school counselor Ian Brodie at a recent RESPECT roundtable discussion at the U.S. Department of Education. He writes to offer tips for teachers on how to form partnerships with counselors.

Collaboration is the word of the 21st century in education. As educators, we are always looking for new ways to work with other professionals in our schools to improve the achievement of our students.

PencilsSchool counselors are an essential resource and great partners for teachers. Gone are the days of “guidance counselors” who existed in the background of the school, sifting through paperwork and deciding for students whether or not they were fit for college. Today’s professional counselors proactively search for innovative ways to meet the needs of all students and to maximize their academic achievement. There are many ways teachers can utilize counselors to solve problems that may interfere with students’ success at school. Here are 10 tips for teachers to help them maximize their partnerships with counselors.

1. Call on counselors to help you understand the whole student. When teachers notice red flags, such as behavioral issues or grades, school counselors are prepared to help teachers gain a more complete understanding of the issues behind the actions.

2. Consult with counselors for professional advice. When teachers find themselves stuck with strategies that aren’t working with a particular student, a counselor who is trained to problem-solve can help them gain fresh ideas to age old problems.

3. Tackle problems before they become insurmountable. When teachers sense trouble brewing in class, language or behavior that causes them anxiety, they should talk with a school counselor who can help trouble-shoot and prevent a situation from escalating.

4. Offer students an empathetic listener. When students are having problems that seem personal or sensitive or that have the potential to get them into trouble, send them to a school counselor who can provide a sounding board and help them find solutions.

5. Guide students’ decision-making. When students act out repeatedly in class, teachers should inform a counselor who can work with them on decision making. School counselors can also help the child reframe the situation and illustrate how different behaviors might be in their best interest.

6. Collaborate with a counselor to integrate counseling and class lessons.  Work together to teach lessons in class about academics, careers, and personal/social issues. These lessons are preventive by design and developmental in nature to help students with their decision-making in school. For example, a lesson about bullying and harassment in a civics class could be paired with a project on laws about harassment.

7. Work with counselors and teachers to design professional development that meets your needs. In-service days provide great opportunities for counselors and teachers to explain their work and develop solutions to school-wide problems.

8. Allow a counselor to make peace. When students can’t get along in class despite the teacher’s attempts to separate them or diffuse tension, allow a counselor to mediate and work out a plan for how the two parties can peaceably coexist.

9. Explore career options. Educators may want to engage a school counselor in helping students understand how their academic work connects to specific careers.

10. Ask a counselor to clarify the severity of a problem. As students develop physically, rapid changes in their mood or behavior can leave teachers wondering whether certain behavior is a normal or a cause for deeper concern. School counselors have been trained to ask the questions that get at the heart of what’s really going on.

Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie is a Middle School Counselor at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Va.