One of the most intimidating aspects of completing a postsecondary degree is financial uncertainty. Too often students with high potential but low means shy away from pursuing a degree based on the assumption that college is out of their financial reach. This preconceived notion hinders many from completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), often leaving millions of federal aid dollars unutilized.
FAFSA season, the time when college and career professionals and educators encourage students to complete the form, kicks off annually on October 1. Most forms of financial aid - including federal grants, institutional aid, and work study programs - are informed by the FAFSA. Nationally, 62% of 2019-2020 high school seniors completed the FAFSA. Localizing the data, the Florida College Access Network estimates that during the same academic year, 58.3% of Florida’s high school seniors and 55.8% of Arizona’s high school seniors completed the FAFSA.
Annually FAFSA challenges in both states promote completion by addressing questions, explaining the value of financial aid, and streamline the completion process. “Helios Education Foundation believes in the power of education to change lives and strengthen communities by connecting all students, particularly first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students to limitless opportunities,” said Paul J. Luna, President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation. “FAFSA completion is the first step in closing the degree completion gap among minority students, a gap that can lead to diminished economic opportunity and lack of social mobility,” concluded Luna.
Through key partnerships, Helios is helping students in Florida and Arizona learn more about the FAFSA and encourage completion. The Florida College Access Network (FCAN) kicked off of the Florida FAFSA Challenge for the 2021-22 school year. The challenge calls on schools, districts, and communities to increase the number of graduating high school seniors who complete the FAFSA. In Florida, College and Career Centers located on high school campus in both Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties provide guidance on college readiness and completion. With Helios’ support, FAFSA completion is also promoted by LEAP, Tampa Bay’s College Access Network who addresses frequently asked questions.
In Arizona, Helios is part of the Arizona FAFSA Coalition – a network of statewide partners that collaborates around efforts to increase FAFSA completion by hosting virtual and in-person help sessions where students and families can have their questions answered. More information can be found at www.azfafsa.org. Across the state, Helios’ College Knowing & Going initiative has a specific FAFSA completion strategy within 18 school districts throughout the state, providing completion assistance to students. One final key initiative aimed at increasing FAFSA completion rates in Arizona is Ask Benji, a FAFSA chatbot and digital assistant that can respond in multiple languages to questions from students, families, or counselors. To chat with Benji, just text 602-786-8171.
By creating strategic partnerships and developing strategies focused on increasing FAFSA completion in both Florida and Arizona, Helios is empowering partners to shape the kind of impact that changes lives.
You can encourage high school seniors to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid at www.fafsa.gov and learn more about resources in Arizona and in Florida by exploring Helios Education Foundation’s Research.