…a guest blog by Lesli Yogi of Hawaii P20
Each year the federal government offers over $150 billion in federal student aid to help students pay for college, yet millions who are eligible fail to file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). In 2013, over $2.9 billion in free federal grant money was left unclaimed, including over $11.2 million in Hawai‘i.
FAFSA completion has strongly been associated with postsecondary enrollment. According to a recent study, 90 percent of high school seniors who complete FAFSA attend college directly from high school, compared to just 55 percent of FAFSA non-completers. Also, FAFSA completion is strongly associated with postsecondary completion: 52 percent of FAFSA filers complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrollment, compared to just 44 percent of FAFSA non-filers.
So why aren’t more students filling out the FAFSA? There are many reasons why families struggle to file, but recent data shows that the primary reason students fail to complete the FAFSA is that they believe it’s too complicated or they don’t think they are eligible for aid.
Several outreach efforts have been implemented in our state to raise awareness about the FAFSA and encourage more students to complete it. With support from the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, a “Cash for College Challenge” was launched this year by Hawai‘i P-20 Partnerships for Education at eight high schools. Schools were encouraged to develop a strategy to increase FAFSA completion on their campuses with prize money being awarded to the top schools that have FAFSA submission rates closest to 100 percent and those that have the largest percentage gains year over year.
The investment in these schools has shown significant gains. The average FAFSA completion rate for these schools as of March 17 is 50 percent (1,058 students) compared to 38 percent (832 students) last year. Seven schools increased their FAFSA completion rates by over 20 percent from the previous year and five schools improved by over 30 percent.
This year’s winners included (based on FAFSA submissions):
Closest to 100%:
- Nānākuli High and Intermediate – 61%
- Waialua High and Intermediate – 59%
Largest percentage change increase (comparing FAFSA submission from March 17, 2017 vs. March 17, 2016)
- Leilehua High School – 53% from 36% (+47%)
- Nānākuli High and Intermediate – 61% from 46% (+33%)
- Wai‘anae High School – 46% from 35% (+33%)
By continuing to invest in FAFSA completion efforts, we can not only help to raise college enrollment rates in our state, but also increase postsecondary completion, ultimately building a more qualified and educated workforce for Hawai‘i’s future.