The Financial Planning Association (FPA) today launched a new certificate program to give planners a boost in their ability to creatively address their clients’ college planning efforts.

The curriculum for College Planning Made Easy: An FPA Certificate Program was developed with Joe Messinger, a college aid expert, CFP and developer of the College Aid Pro software.

“Most planners think that college planning ends with 529 plans, so we really need to raise the bar here,” Messinger said. “We’ve been undereducated on this topic for years. Our clients often tell us paying for college is their number one concern, so we can’t say we don’t do that.”

The course, which takes about four hours to complete, provides a broad foundation in the technical aspects of navigating college funds along with practical talking point and exercises to help planners connect with clients, according to an FPA statement.

“You don’t have to be an expert to add a lot of value for your clients,” Messinger said. “The biggest mistake planners make is automatically assuming clients won’t get financial aid. You really have to fill out the form and apply to see the options. Depending on the family’s situation, a student could go to Amherst for half of what it would cost to go to UMass.”

Among the topics covered in the course are accurate projections of a family’s financial aid package and out-of-pocket costs at individual institutions, creating funding plans that result in manageable debt, protecting retirement assets, how to project income and asset strategies that will maximize financial aid offers, and how to analyze, compare and effectively appeal financial aid award letters, the FPA said.

In addition, the course addresses the “changes and planning opportunities” that come with the simplified FAFSA form that will be available this fall.

“As our members’ partner in planning, FPA constantly seeks ways to support our members and provide opportunities to augment their financial planning knowledge and skills,” FPA chief executive officer Patrick D. Mahoney said in the statement. “Joe Messinger and his team at College Aid Pro have a deep understanding of what it takes to plan for and pay for a college education. We are delighted to partner with them to bring their time-tested methodologies to our members so they can best support their clients and their college-bound children.”

According to the FPA, the course is available to members for $199 (nonmembers, $299) and qualifies participants for 4.5 CFP CE credits. A month of access to the College Aid Pro advisor workstation is included as well.