In episode 12 of Futureproof Focus podcast, Dr. Sharon B. De Vivo, president and chief executive officer of Vaughn College and host of the podcast, sat down with three staff members for an informative conversation about college affordability. Read on to learn about the latest changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from Beatriz Novoa-Cruz, associate vice president of enrollment services, and New York State opportunity programs from Lauren Cajade, executive director of Vaughn’s opportunity programs. Additionally, discover an exciting new tool to help Vaughn students apply for multiple scholarships from Stephen DeSalvo, assistant vice president/chief development officer of the office of institutional advancement and engagement.

The Value of a Vaughn Degree

Were you aware that students who earn a bachelor’s degree can earn $1.2 million more than those without one over the course of their lifetime?

We know that the cost of attending college may be overwhelming. The good news is that Vaughn strives to make earning a degree more affordable. Approximately 90% of Vaughn students receive some type of financial aid, whether it be through state aid, opportunity program support and scholarships. And Vaughn’s financial aid and admissions teams will assist students through every step of the financial aid application process.

Are you ready to dive into your future? What follows is important information from our panel that can help you take the first steps to affording a college education.

New Changes to the FAFSA

Sometimes change is a good thing but can also come with delays. The FAFSA has undergone significant changes through the FAFSA Simplification Act that not only extends aid to more students but makes the application easier and faster to complete. Beginning with the 2024-25 award year, students will be using the new system. It opened on December 31 for the 2024-25 academic year but the new process is taking longer for the government to calculate individual awards for applicants than anticipated, and the timeframe has been pushed back. Institutions have recently begun receiving FAFSA information from the government. This information is needed to be able to review applications and provide prospective students with financial award letters so they can determine the cost of attendance at the institutions they’ve applied to.

Vaughn has extended its preferred deadline to June 1 for students who wish to enroll to accommodate the FAFSA lag and will work with prospective students and their families to help them through the process.

In the meantime, here are the important changes to the FAFSA you need to know about:

  • Fewer questions: The number of questions has been reduced from 108 to 46, with as many as 26 that students may be able to skip, thus further reducing the number to as few as 18—depending on individual circumstances.
  • Eliminated Expected Family Contribution (EFC): EFC has now been replaced with a similar concept called Student Aid Index (SAI), which determines aid based on income.
  • Additional grants: The new SAI will help more underserved students qualify for Pell Grants, which is money that does not have to be repaid.

Important tip: The IRS retrieval tool is still in place. Novoa-Cruz encourages students to use this valuable resource, which makes uploading federal tax returns easy and more accurate—not to mention accelerating the application process.

Whether you have heard about the FAFSA or are new to the college financial aid process, it’s important to know that this application is your gateway to applying for federal aid. Why is this important? Completing the FAFSA application not only opens up opportunities for institutional financial aid but it also extends consideration for additional scholarships and other types of aid. Novoa-Cruz stresses that everyone should complete the FAFSA, regardless of whether or not they think they are eligible.

“Completing the FAFSA is the number one thing for students to do to help with the cost of an education,” said Novoa-Cruz. “Some families make the assumption that they won’t qualify and do not apply…Last year, over $3 billion in Pell Grants was left undisbursed. Even if they don’t qualify for the federal Pell Grant, there are other forms of grants that do not have to paid back, such as awards through the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and the Enhanced Tuition Awards Program (ETA) that New York state students may be eligible for—not to mention scholarships. So, it always makes sense to apply.”

New York State Opportunity Programs

Vaughn proudly offers help through the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) as another way to give New York state students a jump-start on their futures. Funded by the New York State Education Department (NYSED), HEOP continues to play a crucial role at Vaughn by supporting students who are academically and economically disadvantaged. “Through a state-issued grant, Vaughn is able to assist students with things like tuition, textbooks and laptop computers to help them get to the finish line,” said Cajade. “We even offer summer programs, counseling and tutoring to help level the playing field for these students, come the fall semester.”

To be eligible for HEOP, students must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a New York resident.
  • Be a first-time college student, with transfer students from other opportunity programs also eligible to apply.
  • Meet economic criteria.
  • Meet academic criteria. Students must take a standardized exam to see where they place in math and English.

“We are proud to say we have 100 students in the program,” said Cajade. “HEOP is instrumental in paving the way for students to enroll and succeed in college.” She cannot emphasize enough the importance of completing the FAFSA form. “There are several opportunities for students to receive free money to attend college, but students must complete the FAFSA form to be eligible for any of it.”

Scholarship Universe

Scholarship Universe is an exciting platform for current Vaughn students to search and apply for scholarships—both institutional (at Vaughn) or external. This software program connects to each student’s account through a database, thus making the process more streamlined when the time comes to apply. “Vaughn proudly offers 36 donor-funded scholarships—with five scholarships within each one—from outside corporations and organizations,” DeSalvo said. “Through the Institutional Advancement Office, we raise funds specifically for scholarships. Some of our donors include the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the JFK Chamber of Commerce—who are dependent on our student workforce.” To be considered for most of the 36 Vaughn scholarships, DeSalvo said students should have their profiles and all supporting documentation completed by the spring. In addition to the 36 institutional scholarships, DeSalvo explained that Vaughn students have access to over 14,500 nationwide scholarships through one platform. This gives them an incredible opportunity to find scholarships that meet their criteria. To start the scholarship application process, DeSalvo said students must:

As far as being awarded scholarship money is concerned, DeSalvo said: “The most motivated students receive the greatest amount of funds. The more motivated you are, the more opportunities there will be for you. You have to take the initiative. It’s up to the students. The money is out there. Motivation is the name of the game.”

President DeVivo’s Success Tips of the Month

President DeVivo closed the podcast with her success tips of the month for you—and other students—who are starting their college search:

  • Always know what career field you want to enter before applying.
  • Be sure the college you are applying to has a strong employer network.
  • Be sure the college has a supportive career services department that will dedicate itself to your success, both during and after college.

Don’t let the cost of a college education hold you back from pursuing your dreams. Did you know that nearly 18 million students apply for financial assistance through the FAFSA? Don’t miss out on your opportunity to fund your college degree. Email us if you need help with the FAFSA.

Interested in a futureproof career in engineering and technology, management or aviation? Discover all that a Vaughn degree offers. Apply today!

The dream of earning a college degree is becoming a reality for students, thanks to opportunity programs that include the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) and the Collegiate Science and Technology Program (CSTEP), both of which are funded by the New York State Education Department (NYSED). Through a partnership with Vaughn College, these programs are giving New York State students a jump-start on their future—a futureproof education that begins at Vaughn.

This month, we are proud to share the amazing educational opportunities these programs offer and spotlight some of the success stories of Vaughn students who are pursuing their dreams because of these programs.

About HEOP

HEOP was designed for New York State residents who, without academic and financial support, might not be able to attend college. This program is an important part of life at Vaughn. The primary objective of HEOP is to help provide a broad range of services to help students enroll and succeed in college, which aligns with Vaughn’s mission and vision – to inspire a diverse community of students to achieve success with a transformational education that creates a lifetime of opportunity. Some of the academic and financial support services HEOP offers include the summer immersion program, tutorial services, counseling services and financial assistance.

Who is eligible for HEOP?

Individuals must meet certain criteria to be eligible for HEOP. These include:

  • Being a New York State resident for at least one year prior to enrolling in a post-secondary institution
  • Being a first-time freshman student
  • Being a graduate of an approved high school, or having obtained a high school equivalency diploma
  • Meeting the economic eligibility guidelines established by NYSED
  • Meeting the academic eligibility guidelines established by Vaughn College HEOP program

Vaughn students find success through hard work and HEOP

Vaughn is proud to be a part of the success of its students. Through hard work and the help of HEOP, students like Xylene DeCoteau ’20 and Zarin Tasnim ’21 are one step closer to living their dreams.

Xylene DeCoteau

In May 2020, Xylene DeCoteau received her bachelor’s degree in aircraft operations after an impressive academic career at Vaughn. While she was a student, she earned several licenses, which included her private pilot license (PPL), instrument rating (IR) and commercial pilot license (CPL) for both single and multi-engine aircraft. She has also earned her certified flight instructor airplane (CFIA) and certified flight instructor instrument (CFII) certificates, and she currently teaches and supports other students at Vaughn on a part-time basis.

“Everyone at Vaughn has supported my success, and I am happy and honored to have achieved so many of my goals. HEOP and hard work really made a difference. Plus, I get to fly and go to college at the same time. What can be better than that?”

Zarin Tasnim

Zarin Tasnim ’21 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in airport management. She overcame many cultural barriers, which included learning to speak English after having moved to New York from the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. After enrolling at Vaughn in 2017, the hard reality of not being able to afford the program forced her to begin the process of withdrawing from the College. HEOP provided Tasnim with the financial assistance she needed to remain a student at Vaughn.

“Without the support and guidance from HEOP and the Vaughn family, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Working as an airport manager will give me the experience that I need—right out of college—to help lay the groundwork for my future.”

Applying for Vaughn’s HEOP Program

If you are interested in applying for Vaughn’s HEOP program, you can start the process by sending an email to Melissa Teixeira at or Lauren Cajade at . They can help you determine if you are eligible and walk you through the various steps for admission.


CSTEP is intended to enable students to apply to college-level academic programs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Last fall, Vaughn implemented CSTEP to serve 100 students—at any given time and who are enrolled full-time—in a STEM-focused bachelor’s degree program. Like HEOP, CSTEP provides students with specific services related to the program. Depending on the student’s college level, the program will provide the following services to those enrolled:

  • Mentorship by professors at the College
  • Free gateway courses designed to increase student academic performance in fundamental courses
  • Supporting extracurricular activities, such as participation in student-led clubs and activities
  • Priority course registration for each semester the student is in CSTEP
  • Opportunities to participate in professional conferences, seminars and networking events
  • Opportunities to participate in career development events provided by the engineering department and the career services office
  • Eligibility to participate in the summer research program – a paid research program that is supported by CSTEP and Vaughn College under the supervision of faculty members
  • Participation in supplemental instructors’ program and tutoring services

Who is eligible for CSTEP?

The eligibility requirements for CSTEP differ from HEOP. A student who is eligible to be part of the CSTEP must be:

  • A New York State resident
  • In good academic standing (high school cumulative GPA of 3.0, or college cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher)
  • Enrolled full-time in an AAS or BS program in engineering or engineering technology at Vaughn

Additionally, the student must be one of the following historically underrepresented minority groups:

  • Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian or Alaskan Native


Applying for Vaughn’s CSTEP Program

If you meet the eligibility requirements and are interested in applying for the CSTEP program, fill out an application. For general inquiries about the program, please send an email to . For specific inquires or assistance, please reach out to Dr. Amir Elzawawy at or Cecelia Izzo at .

In summary, if you have your sights set on attending college – reach out to us and we can help you determine your eligibility for these programs and get you the support you need to achieve your dreams.