Lessons in Boosting FAFSA Completion Rates

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Louisiana became the first state in the nation in 2018 to set FAFSA completion as a high school graduation requirement.

Since then, Illinois and Texas have adopted similar policies and several other states are weighing the option.

Officials from Louisiana recently shared their state’s story during a webinar organized by the Education Commission of the States. During the hour-long presentation, education leaders explained the process Louisiana followed when adopting the new requirement and discussed how counselors can support students as they file for financial aid.

Louisiana’s Adoption Process

Louisiana’s FAFSA completion requirement was implemented by the state’s Board of Education using rulemaking authority, rather than through legislation.

Prior to implementation, the state created a Financial Aid Working group tasked with evaluating Louisiana’s financial aid application rates and deficiencies, as well as identifying ways to improve the low FAFSA completion rate.

The group, which is  comprised of representatives from a variety of organizations and affiliations, continues to meet quarterly to identify trends and create resources for students around the state.

Role of Louisiana’s High School Counselors

High school counselors in Louisiana have the authority to exempt a student from meeting the FAFSA completion requirement. According to a representative from the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA), school districts even go as far as including the mention of FAFSA completion on a student’s transcript. This could be beneficial at the university level to ensure follow-up with the financial aid office and possible awarding of scholarships.

Other Engagement Opportunities

Counselors and others looking to boost FAFSA competition rates don’t have to wait for a statewide effort to start working to move the needle. Other completion initiatives around the country take place at the district- and school-level.

During my time working at Florida Southwestern State College in Naples, Florida, I had the pleasure of working closely with Champions For Learning, The Education Foundation of Collier County, whose vision “is a community that is 100% engaged in support of student success.” They are the backbone organization facilitating a network of more than 60 partners, called Future Ready Collier, working toward kindergarten readiness and college and career readiness. As the local content leader for college access and financial aid, Champions For Learning leads the local group of partners working toward these goals for all students, particularly focused on FAFSA completion.

Jessica Manchette, vice president of Champions For Learning, leads the cross-organizational team focused on college access. “As a community, we’ve been very focused on FAFSA completion because we know it opens the doors of possibility to so many young people to ensure they have the financial resources to earn their degree or credential,” she said. “Through our collaborative efforts for the past four years, the (FAFSA) completion rate for Collier County seniors has increased more than 10 percent, with 53 percent of seniors completing by June 2019.”

Initiatives like these are always on the lookout for those with experience working with students during the college transition. If you’re not already involved, consider looking for ongoing efforts, or consider starting a new initiative at your school! For more information about FAFSA completion in your area, visit the US Department of Education’s FAFSA completion initiative webpage.

Tiziana G. Marchante is NACAC’s project coordinator for educational content and policy. You can reach her at tmarchante@nacacnet.org.

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