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Education leaders push to get more students to fill out FAFSA

A group of nonprofits are making a push to get more students to fill out the FAFSA — or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — after North Carolina students “left an estimated $107 million on the table” by not filling it out in 2020, according to a press release.

The groups have launched an initiative called NC First in FAFSA in an effort to get more students to fill out the application, which can qualify students for money to help them afford college.

“We know that students who complete the FAFSA are far more likely to enroll in higher education. We also know that students with a two or four year degree are going to double and even triple their life-time earnings,” said North Carolina State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt in a press release. “Because of this pandemic, the students in Class of 2020 and 2021 are facing challenges no other students have had to deal with before. But we want to make sure they still have the opportunity to continue their education and accomplish their dreams. Completing the FAFSA is a pivotal first step in helping them do that.” 

According to the press release, NC First in FAFSA started a FAFSA Challenge this semester. Competing schools can win $500 grants for FAFSA completion strategies, getting the highest percentage of FAFSAs filled out, or getting the highest percentage increase in FAFSA completion.

“The vast majority of the jobs of today and tomorrow require an education beyond a high school diploma,” said Gov. Roy Cooper in a press release. “Every student deserves a path to a quality, affordable postsecondary education, and completing the FAFSA helps students access critical financial aid so they can complete their credential or degree.”

At the end of January, 38% of the state’s high school seniors had completed the FAFSA, which is a decrease of 9% from the year before, according to the press release. North Carolina is 20th in the nation for filling out the application. According to the press release, students that attend low-income, rural schools, and schools with high percentages of students of color are far less likely to complete the applications.

To take part in the FAFSA Challenge, school administrators and staff can register here by Feb. 15. The challenge ends June 30 and winners will be announced by the end of July.

This is how the press release describes the initative:

“NC First in FAFSA is a myFutureNC Collaborative that focuses on increasing the number of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA application. Increasing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, completion rate is a fundamental step in North Carolina’s efforts to meet our state’s 2 million by 2030 postsecondary educational attainment goal. Students who complete the FAFSA are more likely to enroll in higher education, persist in their college coursework, and obtain a degree. 

“Partners include Carolina Demography, College Foundation of North Carolina, College Advising Corps, the Hunt Institute, and the John M. Belk Endowment.”

Editor’s note: The John M Belk Endowment supports the word of EducationNC.

Correction: A previous version of this post said the deadline for schools to register is Feb. 11. It has been corrected to Feb. 15.


EdNC staff reporting relies on staff, interns, and columnists.