FAFSA completion rates are low across the nation (57%)
Washington ranks 48th in the nation for FAFSA completion at 46%; Washington high school seniors miss out on over $50M in federal Pell grants
Louisiana (77%), Tennessee (77%), and DC (71%) have the highest completion rates
Multiple ways for Washington to improve: (1) require FAFSA completion for a High School diploma, (2) increase student and family support to assist with completion, (3) require school districts and high schools to set annual goals for FAFSA completion and report against progress
Washington State ranks 48th for FAFSA completion
As a refresher, the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a critical form that students must complete in order to secure financial assistance for college. But despite the FAFSA’s importance, not enough students are filling out the form. According to NCAN (National College Access network), the national FAFSA completion rate was just 57% for the 2018-2019 application cycle. Washington mustered an anemic 46% completion, ranking 48th among all states and DC. Practically, this equates to $50M in lost Federal Pell Grants.
The FAFSA is a key college-going behavior that’s strongly related to postsecondary enrollment: 90% of FAFSA completers enroll directly in college after high school graduation, while only 55% of non-completers do the same.
Lessons from around the U.S.
Louisiana, Tennessee and DC top the list with FAFSA completion rates nearly 30% higher than Washington’s. What are they doing to achieve these completion rates? And what can we learn?
No FAFSA, No Diploma in Louisiana (77% completion)
Louisiana made FAFSA a graduation requirement in 2017. In just one year, FAFSA completion rose by 26% across the state. To help students with the FAFSA, Louisiana’s Office of Student Financial Aid hosts completion workshops at high schools during the school day. The Office also holds community events like FAFSA Block Parties to help students with last-minute completions or corrections (support even extends into the summer!).
A promising future in Tennessee (77% completion)
In 2014, Tennessee enacted the Tennessee Promise Scholarship, guaranteeing 2 years of free community college to all students. In order to be eligible for Promise scholarships, all students must fill out the FAFSA. To assist students, Tennessee created a trained corps of outreach specialists in each county. Corps members lead workshops, provide information on scholarships and loans, and are available for individualized assistance to students and families.
What gets measured, gets done in DC (71% completion)
Schools in DC achieve high completion by focusing on goal setting and measurement. Schools set annual completion goals and compete with each other for the highest completion rates. Every two weeks, FAFSA data is formatted into a summary table by the DC State Education Agency and is emailed to all school leaders and staff involved in FAFSA completion. As a student reward, schools host FAFSA completion celebrations at the end of each year.
How is Washington State addressing FAFSA completion?
Similar to DC, Washington State makes available FAFSA and WASFA (state aid application) completion data to school counselors via an online portal (check out a public-facing view here). WSAC’s 12th Year Campaign partners with schools and community-based organizations to provide training and resources to students and families. And with the expansion of the Washington College Grant, we are on our way to our own “Washington Promise” scholarship. However, there is still more work to be done.
Washington opportunities for improvement:
Make FAFSA completion a high school graduation requirement (e.g. via High School and Beyond Plans)
Provide additional financial aid literacy and application support to students and families (e.g. via support grants to school districts, FAFSA completion nights, state-administered help lines, etc.)
Create a state office in charge of financial aid or hold existing agencies accountable for FAFSA completion
Require school and district leaders to set completion goals, track progress, and report outcomes on a regular basis (e.g. via OSPI school report card)
For additional details on FAFSA completion in Washington, check out WSAC’s latest brief on FAFSA completion
We can get there with a targeted effort. Let’s #BeatLouisiana.