Community Partner Spotlight - Britt Ortiz

Pictured: Britt Ortiz (center, right) with UCSB's EAOP team.

     With the deadline for filing taxes fast approaching, UWSBC, the UCSB Office of Financial Aid, and UCSB's Early Academic Outreach Program are partnering to provide Financial Aid Workshops and Filing Assistance for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The bilingual workshops will review financial aid information, and allow applicants to complete the FAFSA with assistance from trained partners. 

     Financial aid workshops will take place at the Police Activities League, 1235 Chapala St., Santa Barbara, on Saturdays through April 15 (Financial aid information sessions will be held 10-11 a.m.; drop-in FAFSA filing assistance will be available 11 a.m.-3 p.m; Volunteer Income Tax Assistance will be available 9a.m.-3p.m.). Application materials will be provided.

     UWSBC checked in with community partner Britt Ortiz, Director of Early Academic Outreach, UCSB, to discuss the workshops.

Why is combining tax preparation and FAFSA so important?

     A good deal of research shows that, for lower income families, the FAFSA and tax filing processes can be complicated and challenging without assistance. Given that the IRS allows income tax filers to automatically transfer tax information over to the FAFSA, there is a unique opportunity to combine both services. Research also shows that families with the greatest need tend not to maximize their financial aid opportunities, don't always understand the types of financial aid, and often overestimate the cost of higher education, even though they typically qualify for the highest amount of financial aid.

What do you see as the financial needs of incoming UCSB students?

    Under-resourced families have the most challenges covering tuition, especially as tuition costs have skyrocketed. Some of these big challenges include making ends meet, covering all their tuition, purchasing books and school supplies, maintaining regular food access, and having to work more than 15-20 hours per week while in school (universities highly recommend students not work over 20 hours per week as an ideal scenario for academic success).

How can the community come together to support the financial stability of our families and youth?

     There are many ways the community can help. UCSB has joined forces with United Way to pilot these FAFSA Workshops. This is a replication of a 2012 Stanford University model providing combined income tax and FAFSA filing, financial aid education, and follow-up from trained staff to assist very under-resourced families in completing both processes, making higher education affordable, and reducing barriers to their enrollment and attendance at their chosen school. Higher education can still serve as our society's great socio-economic equalizer if we collaboratively support efforts by community-based organizations like United Way of Santa Barbara County and UC Santa Barbara to expand opportunities for local underserved communities.

How do UCSB and EAOP want to continue its impact in the local community?

     In as many positive ways as possible. EAOP, along with the OFAS, will continue to support this and will be meeting soon to identify ways to improve our workshops and make a bigger impact. EAOP continues to grow our educational partnerships with local schools. We hope to soon find a local high school to partner with to provide our college prep service model, which permanently assigns one of our staff to a high school to provide general college preparation for all students, as well as intensive services to on-track college-eligible students. Our service model has changed the college going rates for over a dozen high schools across Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Kern Counties. Time will tell, but we are optimistic that through continued collaboration we can impact more youth in our community.