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New Arizona Efforts to Increase FAFSA Completions

Author: Helios Education Foundation

September 17, 2018

In order to create a college-going culture across Arizona, Helios Education Foundation has provided a number of investments including the creation of the College Knowing & Going initiative. The initiative consists of a series of college preparation activities within 18 partner school districts throughout the state of Arizona.  As part of this initiative, all juniors take the ACT exam and all seniors receive assistance filling out at least one college application and the free application for federal student aid – the FAFSA. According to the National College Access Network, seniors who complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are 63 percent more likely to enroll in postsecondary education than students who do not complete the FAFSA.  

During the 2017-18 academic year, 43 percent of Arizona high school students completed the FAFSA, according to National College Access Network (NCAN) data. This is a 4 percent increase from the previous year. While this increase is modest, it shows the state is headed in the right direction. Arizona ranked 5th in the country for year-to-year change in FAFSA completions.

There are several factors that can be attributed to this increase, including the hard work of many of Helios’ partners. However, there are two new statewide efforts that are also furthering this work. First, beginning in academic year 2016-17, the Arizona State Board of Education adopted a new A-F School Accountability system. For grades 9-12 the A-F formula includes a College and Career Readiness Indicator that makes up 20 percent of that school’s letter grade. One of the ways a school can earn points is from FAFSA completions. 

“There is a strong correlation between completion of the FAFSA and actually going to college. Completing the FAFSA opens doors for students. The Readiness Indicators provided an opportunity for the State Board to incentivize the opening of those doors. It is highly encouraging to see such quick and clear results,” said Calvin Baker, Superintendent of the Vail School District and member of the Arizona State Board of Education. 

Second, the Governor’s Office has provided leadership and resources through the Governor’s FAFSA Completion Coalition that will officially launch later on this week. “The Governor’s FAFSA Completion Coalition, a public-private partnership between the Governor’s Office, the Commission on Postsecondary Education and Achieve60Az, along with partners Helios Education Foundation, Arizona College Access Network (AzCAN), and Northern Arizona College Resource Center (NACRC),” said Dawn Wallace, Senior Advisor for Education & Strategic Initiatives, Office of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.

“The coalition is also working to increase FAFSA completion rates with trainings, heightened communications, and school challenges, which is a crucial component of college access and our ultimate goal of Achieve60AZ,” Wallace continued. 

This school year, a school challenge campaign will be launched with the goal of increasing the number of Arizona high school students who complete the FAFSA to 50 percent. The campaign will focus on ensuring half of all high school students complete the FAFSA before June 30, 2019, and will have social media and digital components. 

“Completing the FAFSA provides a senior access to federal student aid, which is 80% of all student aid available. Armed with this information, a student can realistically plan their next steps to a degree or certificate.  

“We are eager to support high schools statewide as they build a college going culture that will serve students today and into the future,” said Dr. April Osborn, Executive Director, Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education.

The campaign will emphasize the importance of completing the FAFSA. During the 2017-18 academic year, more than 18,000 Pell grant-eligible students did not complete a FAFSA. The average amount left on the table by these students was $3,587. 

The challenge will feature competitions that will reward schools of small, medium and large sizes in the following categories: highest FAFSA completion rate through March 30, 2019; most improved FAFSA completion rate compared to last year through March 30, 2019; and monthly most innovative player awards for the counseling department that are most creative in increasing their school’s FAFSA completion rate.   

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