Students want to get a college degree but they are not confident they’ll be able to afford getting all the way through. The Ruffalo Noel Levitz 2016 Motivation to Complete College Report found that more than 50 percent of first-year students want to talk with someone about getting scholarships and guidance in getting a job during the academic year and summer. Interestingly, only 28 percent want to talk about getting a loan – an unrealistic point of view given the cost of education at most institutions and the limited grant and scholarship aid that may be available to individual students.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you evaluate your institution’s process for assisting students with their college funding:
Are you helping applicants complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)?
FAFSA completion has been getting a lot of attention lately as institutions and organizations are looking at closing the opportunity gap for students with limited means. Nationally, only about 40 percent of high school seniors complete the FAFSA versus the 66 percent who go to college. The 2016 Ahead of the Herd FAFSAA Completion Report provides information for each state’s FAFSA completion rate. Rates range from a low of 18.6 percent for Utah to a high of 62.3 percent for Tennessee. In addition, the National College Access Network (NCAN) reports on FAFSA completion rates for 68 U.S. cities for the high school class of 2015. The average for all 68 cities is 48 percent. Despite the efforts underway such as high school nights and College Goal Sunday events, families need additional assistance in completing their financial aid applications.
A recent article in Education Week reports that Where Students Need Financial Aid the Most, Fewer Apply. In the first national study to examine the correlation between a school district’s wealth and its FAFSA application rate, the poorer the school district, the less likely students are to fill out the FAFSA. While some states are exceptions, generally, each 10-percentage-point increase in a district’s poverty rate tends to be accompanied by a three-percentage-point decline in its FAFSA completion rate. This particular report suggests that states not only focus attention on improving the rates, but they should also consider focusing particular effort in high-poverty school districts.
Are you tracking FAFSA completion for continuing students?
As I’ve travelled around the country talking about this issue, I always ask if anyone is tracking FAFSAA completion rates for continuing students at their institutions. Most of the time, the response is “no.” In Here Today, Gone Tomorrow? Investigating Rates and Patterns of Financial Aid Renewal Among College Freshmen, the authors found that approximately three-fourths of students refile a FAFSA for the following year, while one-quarter do not refile. Further, Pell Grant recipients are more likely to refile (83.3%) and Pell Grant recipients who earn a 3.0 or higher GPA their freshman year refile at 84.5%.
What can you do to help students complete the FAFSA?
In Financial Aid Mindsets among Low Income Students from October of 2016, NCAN reports that undeserved students are greatly misinformed or completely uninformed as it relates to financial aid for postsecondary education. Despite all the information available about financial aid, it’s not getting to the students who need it most.
The report recommends that institutions provide one-on-one assistance in completing financial aid applications, facilitating the online completion of the FAFSA and requiring students to meet with financial aid staff. These activities can help drive up FAFSA completion rates for both incoming and returning students.