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story.lead_photo.caption A smattering of students cross the quadrangle at Lincoln University in Jefferson City Tuesday, March 23, 2021. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Missouri's Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development is offering free assistance in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to prospective and current students around the state.

The FAFSA Frenzy Summer Edition, a summer-long series taking place at 10 Missouri job centers around the state, kicks off 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-7 p.m. today at the Jefferson City Job Center, located at 3600 Country Club Drive, Suite 2004, Room 100.

Participants can get assistance filing FAFSA and ask questions of professionals and volunteers available at the event.

According to the Missouri Department of Higher Education & Workforce Development website, FAFSA is the primary metric used by the federal government and state of Missouri to determine students' eligibility for most types of public financial aid, such as grants, scholarships, loans and work-study, and is often used to determine financial assistance offered by colleges and universities.

The Department of Higher Education & Workforce Development has hosted the FAFSA Frenzy event since 2004, but typically from October to January when FAFSA is released.

Jessica Duren, assistant commissioner for communications and outreach at Missouri Department of Higher Education & Workforce Development, said FAFSA filing is down nationwide this year, likely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, so the department established a summer series to assist students with the process.

"Students were not necessarily in their normal learning pattern last year," she said. "So opportunities for them to get that help may not have been available with virtual options, just less opportunities for them to have that touch base with a counselor or with a financial aid officer from a college, so we're actually hosting those at our Missouri Job Centers so that we can get more students to file and be ready to attend college in the fall."

Through May 14, 45.9 percent of Missouri's high school class of 2021 completed FAFSA, Duren said, which is a 7 percent decrease — or 2,473 students — from this time last year. Nationally, applications are down about 5.5 percent from this time last year with 49.7 percent of graduating seniors completing the process.

While the FAFSA Frenzy events are targeted toward graduating seniors, all prospective higher education students are invited to participate. Duren said the locations for the FAFSA Frenzy events were chosen to have at least one event in each of the state's 10 workforce regions.

With the exception of last year, Duren said, the FAFSA Frenzy event has been steadily growing in popularity for the past 18 years. She said 25,000 Missouri students have been helped through FAFSA Frenzy since 2004. Typically, the department's role has been to provide a toolkit, resources and volunteers to assist participating high schools and colleges. This year, it will be hosting the events at various job centers.

The FAFSA for the fall 2021 and spring 2022 school year is available until June 30, 2022. Duren said most students should complete the process before arriving on campus in the fall so financial aid packages can be assembled by colleges and universities.

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