The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application to receive financial aid for the 2020-2021 school year opened on October 1, but research shows that many high school students don’t always take advantage of this opportunity. In order to meet myFutureNC’s ambitious postsecondary attainment goal for North Carolina we will need to identify innovative approaches to improving college access. Completion of the FAFSA has a positive association with college enrollment and can serve as an early indicator of both access and success in postsecondary education. With nearly 80% of Louisiana seniors completing FAFSA last year, North Carolina can look to the state for ways to increase engagement and FAFSA completion.
Louisiana ranked number one in the nation for FAFSA completion rates for the second consecutive year, according to the National College Access Network’s (NCAN) FAFSA Tracker. In fact, 78.7% of Louisiana’s 47,837 seniors completed their FAFSA during the 2019-2020 award year. This result follows a mandate by the Louisiana Department of Education that includes FAFSA submission as a graduation requirement.
The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA), a program of the Louisiana Board of Regents, and our partners developed best practices that: 1) Help students and their families navigate the financial aid process to minimize student loan debt and maximize gift aid awards, and 2) Help students and their families understand that FAFSA completion is just one step towards college access and success.
We learned that we must also:
- Develop strategies to engage students and parents;
- Offer student-centered wraparound services where students can be guided and supported with help from professionals; and
- Collaborate with stakeholders to spread the word on best strategies for assisting with filling out the FAFSA.
Using a holistic approach, our team connects the importance of academic persistence to college scholarships and, initiates conversations to explain the financial aid process and student loan debt.
This approach includes:
- One-on-one engagement. LOSFA provides line-by-line assistance to students and parents in order to complete their respective portions of the FAFSA application.
- Providing opportunities for assistance. High school professionals can coordinate with LOSFA to host multiple events at their schools to ensure a full range of opportunities to understand the financial aid process.
- Communication. LOSFA uses Signal Vine text messaging, emails, one-calls, and social media campaigns to spread the word about FAFSA, financial aid opportunities, and other resources to provide college readiness support.
- LOSFA’s FAFSA Lab. LOSFA has a FAFSA lab for families who need additional assistance with completing their FAFSA outside of school or home.
- Geaux FAFSA. LOSFA hosts an email address (GeauxFAFSA@la.gov) for parents and students to ask FAFSA questions.
We found these strategies, coupled with a supportive effort between schools, colleges, the Department of Education, and community partners, to be key to Louisiana’s increased FAFSA completion.
Editor’s note: This perspective was first published by The Hunt Institute. It was posted with the author’s permission.