NCAN Launches #FormYourFuture FAFSA Tracker

January 22, 2018

By Allie Ciaramella, Communications Manager 

Today NCAN launched the #FormYourFuture FAFSA Tracker. This interactive online dashboard tracks and ranks states’ progress toward 100 percent of their high school seniors completing the FAFSA, shows week-to-week progress, and allows for comparisons between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 cycles at the national, state, and city levels.

NCAN members Florida College Access Network, Michigan College Access Network, and Alabama Possible have tackled similar projects for their individual states. NCAN sought to create a resource where members and partners in any state could, throughout the FAFSA cycle, easily and frequently check their incremental progress in helping more students apply for financial aid. By allowing states and locales to compare outcomes with their peers and others across the country, it aims to inspire a little friendly competition in our collective quest to ensure that all students, especially those underrepresented in higher education, can afford to achieve their educational dreams.

The tracker’s namesake, Form Your Future, is a national campaign that is run by NCAN and provides free FAFSA completion tools and resources to college access and education professionals, as well as direct social media outreach to the low-income, first-generation students who need financial aid the most. Although 85 percent of students who go to college get some form of financial aid – and 92 percent of low-income ones get grants – only 61 percent of high school seniors file the FAFSA by graduation.

Following up on survey findings that 44 percent of college students who failed to apply for financial aid did so because they thought they were ineligible, NCAN’s own research uncovered a different issue: that more than half of non-aid applicants surveyed said they “don’t know anything about financial aid.” So to inform more students that aid does exist and all they need to do to get it is file the FAFSA, NCAN launched Form Your Future in September 2016.

Like other such tools, the FAFSA tracker results are variable. Because these data are drawn from Federal Student Aid, they exclude schools where fewer than five students have completed the FAFSA. And patterns are likely to be influenced by certain outside forces, such as state and institutional aid deadlines. However, these caveats do not make the tracker any less useful in monitoring progress. 

So why invest in FAFSA completion, anyway? For one thing, the millions of aforementioned students who do not apply for federal aid leave $24 billion in money for college on the table each year, including approximately $2.7 billion in Pell Grants alone. Second, students who do file the FAFSA are 63 percent more likely to attend college, and research has found that every additional $1,000 in grant aid per student increases postsecondary persistence rates by 4 percentage points. Finally, 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 nonfilers.

The #FormYourFuture FAFSA Tracker will be updated weekly and can be accessed at www.collegeaccess.org/FAFSATracker

NCAN would like to credit Dr. Nick Hillman and Ellie Bruecker at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for their work in this area and specifically their analytical assistance.

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