PHOENIX — For many, the dream of going to college is a fantasy without some financial aid.
But less than half of Arizona students completed their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA, in 2019.
Now, a pandemic likely means that number will drop further.
A group of education leaders is on a mission to offer an opportunity to make that dream of higher education a financial reality through drive-in support options.
"We had our first event in November... and now this is our fourth event," said ASU Associate Vice President with Educational Outreach and Student Services Sylvia Symonds.
It is her job to reach out to students and help them understand what is possible through education.
But she knows the FAFSA is already a difficult document to navigate for some families.
The pandemic has made her job of connecting them to support harder.
"We noticed that a group in Mississippi was hosting a FAFSA drive-in," Symonds explained. "So, we thought that was a really creative idea."
ASU reached out to the group and got information from them on how it all works. Then, they decided to try it out here in Arizona.
"A family will drive-in. We ask them what they need help with and then we ask them if they prefer English or Spanish," Symonds explained.
At the event, they can log-on to free WIFI, use devices, access printers, and have staff walk them through the FAFSA process from start to finish.
ASU tells the Rebound Arizona that this is a collaborative effort between the Arizona Meta Network, the Be a Leader Foundation, Phoenix Union High School district, Ask Benji, Phoenix College, and AzCAN.
"Finally! Like, I'm so relieved because it's so stressful," said Bianca Ruiz.
Ruiz came to the event with her mother, Sonia, to finish her FAFSA.
Now that she received some support, she is excited to focus on her goal of going to college to become a nurse. This all makes her mother very proud.
"She got good grades and she's a good student and I hope she's going to make it," said Sonia Ruiz.
As a state, the community should hope so too.
National data shows the number of college applications fell in 2020.
They saw a 10% decline in first-generation students, which continues to highlight the way the pandemic has disproportionately impacted some families.
In 2015, the research group, Brookings Institution, found the community should care about kids going to college, even if they are not their own.
On average, someone who holds a Bachelor's degree will contribute more than $275,000 to the local economy in their lifetime compared to just over $80,000 with a high school diploma.
So, taking action to help families find this financial support may mean it is also creating success stories and a successful economy.
"The FAFSA unlocks so many resources for students and families so that they can achieve their higher education goals," said Symonds.
There will be another drive-in FAFSA event on Wednesday, February 24.
This is free, but space is limited. To secure your spot, click here.