By Janai Raphael, Graduate Assistant for Research and Data Analysis
From long hours at financial aid nights to navigating complex policies and processes with students and their families, FAFSA season can easily be one of the most demanding times of the year for many college access professionals. At other times, it can be one of the most rewarding as the field helps students complete a critical milestones on their college-going journeys.
Despite its challenges, researchers, policymakers, and practitioners alike are all invested in increasing FAFSA completion. Researchers have repeatedly found that FAFSA completion has been linked to increased postsecondary enrollment, especially for students from low-income backgrounds. Each year new strategies and initiatives, such as Louisiana’s addition of mandatory financial aid planning to the state’s high school graduation requirements, nudge students toward the benefits of FAFSA completion and college enrollment.
NCAN’s #FormYourFuture FAFSA Tracker allows users to explore FAFSA completion rates by state and measures the percent change year-over-year. The Tracker can also be used to track year-over-year changes in completion rates across schools, districts, and cities.
The Tracker’s latest update covers all FAFSAs processed by Federal Student Aid through Nov. 1. Now that we’re officially one month into this year’s FAFSA cycle, let’s take a dive into the data to see how this year’s senior class stacks up to the class of 2019.
As of Nov. 1, about 20% of the class of 2020 has completed the FAFSA nationwide. Illinois (35.5%), Kentucky (35%), Tennessee (32.5%), and Washington D.C. (30%) are leading the nation with the highest percentages of seniors who have already completed the FAFSA. With at least 25% of their senior students having already completed the FAFSA, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Maine are also showing early signs of success.
Compared to last year’s cycle, Utah has had the most substantial gains in FAFSA completions. With an increase of 51.6%, almost 1,900 more students in the class of 2020 have completed the FAFSA compared to last year’s cohort through the same date. Rhode Island, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Maryland have also seen promising increases of up to 15.3% in FAFSA completions.
Across the nation, FAFSA completion is up by 4.6%, which represents an increase of more than 33,000 completions over last year's cycle.
Only a month in, the class of 2020 has taken a favorable lead over the class of 2019 that NCAN hopes will persist throughout the rest of the 2020-21 cycle. As the cycle continues, be sure to check the FAFSA Tracker weekly to monitor your state’s progress toward 100% completion, and stay tuned for new updates and strategies for increasing FAFSA completion.