AzCAN — Keeping a Financial Aid Focus in AZ

| June 2, 2020

AZ must continue to focus on FAFSA 

Summer is upon us, and Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) rates across Arizona – and other parts of the country – continue to decline.  With all the bread baking, TikToking, and puzzling happening right now, it’s critical that FAFSAing gets added to the list of quarantine activities. 
According to the Arizona FAFSA Tracker, on March 13, Arizona’s class of 2020 had a 3.2% increase in FAFSA completion numbers over the class of 2019. Arizona was making gains, in large part due to the concentrated efforts at the school, local and state level. 
On March 16, Arizona schools
began to close and/or switch to virtual learning environments because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and FAFSA Completions began to decline.
Arizona’s year-over-year change in completion numbers fell on April 17 into the negatives and as of May 15, the class of 2020 has 1.5% fewer FAFSA completions than last year’s class, representing 535 fewer seniors. This means an additional 535 AZ seniors on top of the more than 50,000 seniors that already on average don’t complete the FAFSA may miss out on financial aid this year, which can have a serious impact on postsecondary enrollment.  According to the National College Attainment Network, completion of the FAFSA correlates with college enrollment.  High school seniors who complete the FAFSA are 84% more likely to to immediately enroll in postsecondary education compared to their non-FAFSA filing peers.
This downward trend isn’t Arizona specific, in fact, the only state that currently has a year-over-year increase in FAFSA completion numbers is California at 0.6%. Nationally, there are 3.3% – or 66,295 students – fewer completions than this time last year.
Unfortunately, these state and national declines aren’t just for first-time FAFSA filers. This year, the number of FAFSA renewals has also significantly decreased, according to the National College Attainment NetworkIn Arizona, FAFSA renewals through May 15th are down 3.8%. Nationally, FAFSA renewals are down almost 5%, meaning more than 350,000 students have yet to renew their FAFSA, compared to last year.
NCAN also reports that declining FAFSA completions and renewals continue to disproportionately
affect high schools that serve students from low-income backgrounds or that
are in small/rural towns as well as Pell eligible renewals. As of May 8, Title I eligible high schools nationally had 4.5% fewer completions than on the same date 2019, but non-Title I eligible high schools were only down  2.4%.  In Arizona, Pell eligible renewals were down 4.4% when compared to last year at this time.
“Neither figure is encouraging, but completions being down so much more in Title I high schools is particularly discouraging,” wrote NCAN Director of Data and Evaluation Bill DeBaun.
Arizona had been making significant strides in helping more of its students complete the financial aid application over the last several years because of targeted efforts from schools such as Catalina High School.
Catalina High School (Tucson, AZ) Home | MaxPreps

Catalina High School, part of the Helios College Knowing and Going Initiative, has significantly raised FAFSA completion rates despite a global pandemic.  Winning ACPE’s Most Innovative Player in January 2020 for nearly doubling their FAFSA completion rates,  Catalina High School attributed their success to one-on-one assistance from AdviseAZ AmeriCorps members and the entire Catalina team. 

Catalina’s approach to increasing FAFSA completion rates is further reinforcement that non-academic services can be just as helpful and necessary in a school as academic ones, like College Success Arizona said in their most recent policy brief College Access and Success Are About More Than Academics: How Supports That Build Non-Academic Knowledge and Skills Improve College Readiness and Promote Attainment.
All of Catalina High School’s FAFSA best practices can be found here.
Currently AZ is at a 43% completion rate, which is 9 percentage points less than the state goal of 52%.  Given the uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to ensure completion of the FAFSA so students can pursue their postsecondary goals.

AzCAN continues its work to help raise FAFSA completion through its involvement with Project Benjamin, a chatbot that uses artificial

intelligence to answer students’ questions regarding the FAFSA application. Targeted text messages are proven to increase FAFSA completion and lead to significant improvements in college enrollment. 

Arizona must continue to find innovative and sustainable ways to increase FAFSA completion so that our most needy students are still being given the support needed to access and attain postsecondary completion. 
I am proud of the gains Arizona has made over the years and the continued efforts of Arizona educators across the state to support Arizona students in achieving their postsecondary goals. I hope that you find the below FAFSA tools and resources valuable and encourage you to forward to your colleagues.
Please continue to make delicious banana bread, have fun and take care of yourself during this difficult time and know that AzCAN is here to support you.  
If there is anything I can do to help during this time, please reach out.
-Roxanne Dewyer-Murphy, Director of Statewide Initiatives
Additional FAFSA resources:
FAFSA articles: 
FAFSA webinars:
Do you have something you would like to share with the Arizona College Access Network? 
Please submit any events, research, news, achievements, 
job openings or anything that you would like for us to share to 
AzCAN, 4040 E. Camelback Rd., Suite 220, Phoenix, AZ 85018-8361

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