FAFSA Tracking: A Pathway to College Affordability and Student Access
FAFSA Tracking: A Pathway to College Affordability and Student AccessAdele Hazan, Senior Director of Digital Communications, the College Board
When it comes to preparing our nation’s students for a post-secondary education, completing their FAFSA form is a critical first step. Dr. Joyce Brown is a leader in implementing FAFSA tracking programs across the country. These programs were built from pilot programs started in the Chicago Public School system. “When you get FAFSA done, magic happens,” said Brown when sharing key strategies for getting more students to complete their forms. Brown mentioned that counselors must be engaged in a way that transforms practices into outcomes.
Although FAFSA completion rates are going up, we have lots of work to do. There is a national focus from President Obama and the First Lady with her Reach Higher initiative. The Department of Education can now provide state-level completion data that districts and counselors can use to engage with students in meaningful ways. Key strategies include data cleaning, encouraging the creation of pin numbers, training events for counselors, completion events and workshops and close tracking of progress. There are great resources available through the Department of Education including this toolkit.
Sharing local successes of FAFSA completion in Clark County (Nevada) were Kerry Bartlett, Mayra Galeana, and Jill Hersha. Clark County is the fifth largest school district in the country with over 318,000 students -- many of whom are in need of financial aid. In the 2012-2013 school year, the district provided 25 schools with FAFSA training, which resulted in a 34.5% completion rate. The following school year (2013-2014) the program expanded to 51 schools and the completion rate went up to 38%.A huge win for the district.
The counselors were persistent with their students. They received more data, more frequently to help guide their engagement. Ongoing interaction with students and parents started at the beginning of the school year with various events like grade-level presentations, parent nights, computer lab opportunities, and college fairs. As the key completion months approached (January – March), Jill Hersha focused on two simple questions for her students: where are you at and what is stopping you from getting it done?
Dr. Brown closed the session by encouraging all attendees to put together a systemic plan to track FAFSA. “It is a great accountability metric and first step for getting more students into post-secondary education. It’s a key strategy that everyone should embrace.”