This is the transcript for Episode 15 (April 5, 2018) of the “Title IV + More Podcast for Utah Counselors and Educators” from Katie Wornek, Jacob Newman, and Bryan Lee at StepUp to Higher Education Utah.

Listen to the “Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators” on iTunes

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Please be advised that the FAFSA and federal student aid are subject to change. While we ensure all the information we share in each episode is accurate at the time of the episode’s release, our statements are not insulated from future changes. If you have questions, we encourage you to call us at 801-869-5701 or email us at outreach@utahsbr.edu.


Bryan: Welcome and thank you for listening to StepUp Utah’s Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators. This podcast is brought to you by StepUp to Higher Education Utah, helping Utah’s students and parents prepare and pay for college. Find more about us at StepUpUtah.com.

Jacob: Welcome, listeners. I’m Jacob Newman and I am a paying for college expert with StepUp Utah.

Katie: And I am Katie Wornek, also a paying for college expert. I’ll get us started this week with some news headlines. This one’s really exciting from the Deseret News – Utah is actually making an appearance on a list of top national graduate programs. So, US News and World Report released a new national graduate program ranking. They evaluate six major areas of graduate study and those are business, education, engineering, law, medicine, and nursing and two Utah schools have made the top ten. So, if you have students out there who are really ambitious as seniors and are already looking to their graduate school, this is good to know for them. BYU is one of those schools.

Jacob: Go Cougars!

Katie: [Laughs]. Jacob’s an “alumn”, I should point out. And they were in the top ten for accounting for graduate programs, but they also had others on the list outside of the top ten including entrepreneurship and education programs. And the University of Utah was the other school that made the top ten. Go Utes! That’s my alma mater and they had top ten in nursing informatics and environmental law. The programs at the U of U that fell outside of the top ten were mathematics, algebra, number theory, algebraic geometry, entrepreneurship, chemistry, inorganic chemistry, biomedical engineering, education. Who knew that the graduate landscape for mathematics was so diverse you can major in all those different things [laughs].

Jacob: Right?

Katie: And then just kind of an honorable mention here – Utah State also had some programs that were not necessarily in the top ten but at least made this list and that was education, biological and agricultural engineering, aerospace/aeronautical/astronomical engineering and no surprise there because USU is pretty famous for that. And then our second article this week from KSL is that Utah colleges and universities offer affordable food services to students in need. If you do have students that you’re working with right now who may be low-income or may be on TANF or SNAP who are a little bit concerned about this going into college, this is a good resource to know about so you can direct them to where they need to go. In 2016, this is a really sad statistic, 48% of the nation’s college students reported experiencing food insecurity. And that includes 25% of community college students and 20% of four-year college students who were reporting that they had “very low” food security. A couple of schools are combatting this in Utah and this article from KSL outlines seven programs at Utah colleges that offer food assistance to students. And those schools are the University of Utah, Utah Valley, Utah State, Weber State, Salt Lake Community College, Dixie State, and Westminster. And we’ll have a link to this article in the transcript if you’d like to read about those programs. Help may be available to students at other institutions beyond the ones that are listed in this article, so it’s important to have your students check with the student services office at their college or university to see what kind of help is available there. Excellent. Anything you want to add to those new stories, Jacob?

Jacob: No, it’s just interesting to see that a lot of students when they even think about graduate school they think, “Maybe I’ll go out of state or something,” but if they’re looking to stay in-state, there’s really still some advantages to staying here in the state in terms of cost of living and just overall cost of attendance because we really do have some great institutions here in the state. So yea, just really great to know that there’s those options there for them.

Katie: I agree. So, moving on now to the events for the next coming weeks. A couple of things that are going on – we are hosting a #WhyCollege campaign right now. What this is is each week from March through May, we’re featuring a blog from the admissions office at each college and university in Utah and then we’re doing a social media giveaway where students can say why they’re excited to go to that school and they can compete for swag items from that school. So it’s been really fun to partner with the admissions office on this. We have had quite a few schools already and you can go and check those out on our website or social media accounts. But the upcoming weeks of this campaign – April 9-12 will be Dixie State week on StepUp Utah and our social media accounts, April 16-20 will be BYU week, April 23-27 will be Utah State week and then this will continue into May with even more colleges. A couple of exciting things are going on with UHEAA and StepUp awards. It’s awards season for us – Oscars may be over, but we’re going strong!

Jacob: [Laughs]

Katie: First up, we have our FAFSA Cup competition, which is a $750 professional development grant for counseling teams who excel at helping their students complete the FAFSA. We’ve had a couple of applications for that and they’re still open. The deadline is April 17 and we’ll be selecting a winner in the days after that. We have our FAFSA Scholarship, so this is for students who attend a FAFSA Night that’s UHEAA-sponsored. They fill out a survey at the end of that night and then we draw three surveys at random at the end of the year and each of those three students gets a $1,000 scholarship, so that drawing will also take place on April 17 – or, excuse me, April 18 because the deadline is midnight. And then our StepUp to College Costs Scholarship – this was our new scholarship program that hopefully you saw emails about from us, for 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th graders. We’ve had more applications than I could have even imagined and we are still accepting applications through April 17. We’re excited to review all of those essays that we get in and choose our winner after the April 17 deadline. And then last but not least, the event we want to let you know about is Latinos in Action at the University of Utah. This is LIA’s leadership convention for students in middle and high school and we will be there presenting on financial aid at the University of Utah conference on April 26 and we are excited to see your students there.

Jacob: I just want to throw out that shout out again for the FAFSA Cup. We have had some applications but we really encourage counselors to apply just because that’s really a great opportunity for you to reflect on some of the FAFSA completion efforts that you’ve had over the past year and also to win a $750 professional development grant, a free meal, as well as a nice little trophy to put in your case. So please apply because that’s really a great opportunity for you to look to the future as well because it’s hard to believe the school year’s almost over and that we’re going to be starting the next FAFSA season come October 1, which is going to be just around the corner, as well. We are super excited about that. And I’m going to go ahead and transition us to our FAFSA Tip of the Week. We’re going to continue with March’s theme because it’s so important, especially this time of year and the theme is verification. This is something that is often a little bit of a barrier for students and students will sometimes kind of fall of and not be able to receive their financial aid because of this kind of verification barrier. One thing that’s really common that students need to be able to do is they need to be able to obtain a tax return transcript. The financial aid office could seek to verify a number of different pieces of information from the FAFSA. So some things that are pretty common are household size, number of students in the household, student’s high school completion status, or family income. For some of these categories, sometimes it’s just as simple as a signed statement from the student or the parent and that might be enough to complete the verification process. For other verification categories, the college may need additional documentation. One frequent verification scenario involves obtaining a copy of the student’s or parent’s tax return transcript to verify financial information. So, sometimes counselors and students don’t really know what this looks like, and you can help your student request a copy of the tax return from the IRS website. The requirements a digital copy are very strict for security reasons, so the student would need to have a credit card, mortgage, or cell phone account in their name to get a digital copy. So for the parents that usually is the case that they’re able to obtain something like that. But if your student does not have any of these accounts, they can request a hard copy of the tax transcript by mail, which should arrive 5-10 calendar days later. We have also heard from students and counselors that visiting the local IRS office in-person is a relatively easy way to obtain a tax return transcript. And if you have any questions or concerns about this because we know verification can be very complicated for students, you can always call us at 801-869-5701 or email us at outreach@utahsbr.edu. Do you have anything else you want to add about that, Katie, in terms of verification?

Katie: So, I typically pride myself on being kind of organized but when I filled out my FAFSA for last year I could for the life of me find my 2016 1040. I was a little bit ashamed about that – still don’t know where it is – but I moved a couple times, so I’m going to give myself a pass. So I actually have personal experience having to request a tax return transcript. Luckily, you know, I’m an adult, so I do have a couple of those types of accounts in my name and I could get it digitally, but it was honestly a really streamlined process. It wasn’t intimidating at all.

Jacob: Yea, and I think a lot of students when they see the word “tax return transcript”, they get a little scared. So I think just talking them through it and kind of explaining why the financial aid office would need this just to verify some information on the FAFSA. It doesn’t mean they’re in trouble, they just need to verify some of that information is really the way to go. And I’m going to go ahead and transition us to our monthly counselor spotlight. We actually missed a March episode so we’re going to have two counselor spotlights this month. The first one is kind of a little bit of a unique one. We’re going to give a shout out to all of the schools here in the state that have requested a FAFSA Completion Open House. So far, we have 61 event requests, which is really amazing because when we sent out a reminder this past year, we sent out a reminder a couple days before the deadline, I think it was like the middle of April, we only had 64 event requests and we already have 61, which is really impressive, so we’re definitely on pace to have the same number of events we had this last year if not more. If you have not submitted an event request, it is not too late. Again,  that deadline is the same day as the rest of our deadlines pretty much It’s just going to be that April 17 deadline to request events. So you will just visit us at StepUpUtah.com and under the “counselors” tab you can request events and you’re going to request that FAFSA completion event. We’re really  just excited about this because we know if counselors get this on their radar earlier, even though the school  year’s not over yet, it’s good to be able to make sure that it doesn’t conflict with any events that you have going on at your school and we’re just really excited about those counselors who have been on the ball and have gotten those event requests to us. It’s super exciting to be planning all of these. And we’ll get back to you in May probably to confirm those event requests because it does take quite a bit of coordination to make sure we can get coverage that, if UHEAA’s not able to attend, we want to make sure we partner with financial aid offices to get coverage for you as well. We want to make you feel like you’re well supported and that’s what we’re here for. So, kudos to those who have already submitted their event request. Anything you want to add about that, Katie?

Katie: No, I’m excited for next year. I feel like we’re bouncing back, we’re getting our energy again now that the FAFSA Night season has slowed down and I’m excited to get back on the ball and go attend those events.

Jacob: And we’ll turn the time over to Katie again and she’s going to be interviewing our guest this week.

Katie: So, this week we have Lais Martinez, who is the College Access Coordinator for the Utah System of Higher Education, or USHE. Welcome, Lais.

Lais: Hi! I’m happy to be here.

Katie: So, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you came from before USHE, and what brought you to our organization?

Lais: Ok, so I am a East Coast transplant and I have been in Utah for almost ten years. And I am extremely passionate about lessening the gap for historically underrepresented students trying to navigate into higher education, and so all my work has been surrounded around that and I’m excited to be here.

Katie: Awesome. So, we already talked about you’re the College Access Coordinator. What does that role entail and what are you kind of in charge of at USHE?

Lais: I am heavily involved with programs like Expect the Great, which is a K-16 conference geared for Black, African, and African-American students. I oversee UCAW, which is Utah College Application Week for anyone who hasn’t heard of it. And then I am also working with StepUp College Ambassador program, which would follow a near-peer mentor model that would focus on 8th-12th outreach and overall college readiness for those students, and so it’s something that I’m really excited about. We’re currently in the recruitment phase for that program and it’s a lot of fun.

Katie: Yea, I’m excited to see where that goes. I think students are going to really respond well to seeing students that are near their age and in college and navigating themselves mentor them through the process.

Lais: Exactly. A big part of that will be that they’re going to learn how to share and develop their stories so that they can facilitate in that mentorship role for those students.

Katie: That’s excellent. So, going back to Utah College Application Week, I know that’s a bulk of what you do, it takes up a lot of your time. For any counselors who may not be familiar with UCAW, what’s kind of the history of that program?

Lais: UCAW started in Utah in 2013 with eight schools in the Granite, Salt Lake, and Ogden school districts. And in 2017 we had been in the schools for five years and now we have 122 schools. And, in 2017, we had a total of 34,582 transcripts sent during Utah College Application Week. So it’s amazing to see the growth of the program in the last five years.

Katie: Yea, and I think what a difference that must make to give students this fun and exciting event where they can apply for college admission during the school day. I’m sure that this is improving the number of students who matriculate ultimately into our system.

Lais: Yes, exactly, because I’ve spoken with students and the reason why they love UCAW so much is because it is a program where we don’t just talk to them about paying and preparing for college, we actually hold their hand while they are applying.

Katie: That’s awesome. So if a school has never been involved with UCAW before or maybe there’s a new coordinator at the school who wants to do an event next year, how do they go about scheduling that with you?

Lais: Email me. My email is lmartinez@ushe.edu. And by mid-April we will also have a form that schools can fill out on our StepUp website, so please be checking for that.

Katie: Great. You’re also in charge of hosting this conference that USHE does every year centered around college access. What is the idea behind that this year? Is that going to happen and, if so, what can we look forward to?

Lais: It definitely will be happening. It is Friday, May 11, so put it on your calendars. And it’s not just the access retreat, this is the second year that we pair with our completion director and so we’re calling it the USHE Access and Completion Retreat. And I love that because in all of my work focusing on access, we can never just talk about access, we also always need to be talking about retention and completion and the theme of the conference this year will be “Beyond Financial Aid” through the Lumina Foundation and I love the whole concept of it because often times we talk about FAFSA and that often just covers tuition – it doesn’t cover books or housing, it doesn’t cover counseling and advising for first generation students who may have a hard time just navigating. So, beyond financial aid, what are the things that students need so they can be successful once they get to higher ed.

Katie: I love that because we know that money is a big barrier, but there are other barriers too, so it’s great that we’re tackling that together this year. Anything else you’d like to add about upcoming events or your role at USHE?

Lais: No, I think that’s it. I’m just happy to be here and thanks for giving me the opportunity to come and chat with you all.

Katie: No problem, thanks for coming in.

Jacob: Alright, thank you for joining us this week. And just a couple of reminders before we sign off, apply for the FAFSA Cup, the April 17 midnight deadline. And in the next episode we’ll have a FAFSA tip, we’ll have news and events, and as always, we encourage your feedback and questions and any counselor spotlight nominations that you might have. We’ll see you next time.

Bryan: StepUp to Higher Education is an outreach initiative of the State of Utah that empowers 8th through 12th grade students and their families to prepare for college. We believe every Utah student should pursue education after high school, whether that be a one-year certificate, a two-year degree, a four-year degree, or beyond that. We provide programs and resources to encourage college prep and success, as well as training and materials for school counselors like you. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators. You can find more about us, order outreach and access materials, or request a StepUp Utah event at your school at StepUpUtah.com. And lastly,  be sure to follow us on social media. You can find us at Facebook.com/StepUpUtah, also on Instagram and Twitter by searching  for @StepUpUtah. You can also find our Outreach Officers on social media, as well. Just search for @StepUpKatie and @StepUpJacob.


This is the transcript for Episode 15 (April 5, 2018) of the “Title IV + More Podcast for Utah Counselors and Educators” from Katie Wornek, Jacob Newman, and Bryan Lee at StepUp to Higher Education Utah.

Listen to the “Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators” on iTunes

Listen to the “Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators” on SoundCloud

Listen to the “Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators” on Google Play

Please be advised that the FAFSA and federal student aid are subject to change. While we ensure all the information we share in each episode is accurate at the time of the episode’s release, our statements are not insulated from future changes. If you have questions, we encourage you to call us at 801-869-5701 or email us at outreach@utahsbr.edu.