FAFSA Completion to Increasing College Access and Affordability

Can increased FAFSA completion lead to increased college access?

The National Clearinghouse Research Center released its seventh annual report on current data around high school graduates’ postsecondary outcomes. Findings in this report show that there continues to be a large gap between higher-income and low-income high schools in student enrollment, persistence, and completion. One of the key findings of this report was that students from higher-income high schools were 25% more likely than students from low-income high schools to enroll in college immediately after high school.[1]

What can we do to help close that gap and create more opportunities for students from low-income high schools to access college?

Research shows that the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) helps increase college enrollment, especially for those from low-income high schools.[2] This is just one step to increase college access and affordability but it’s an achievable one that is available to all students.

The importance of FAFSA completion to increase college access and affordability for students from low-income communities is evident by the increasing number of states that have made it a graduation requirement. In 2018, Louisiana became the first state to pass a law requiring students to complete the FAFSA as a prerequisite for high school graduation. As a result, Louisiana has a 78% FAFSA completion rate (the highest in the country), which helped secure more financial aid for students across the state.[3] Illinois and Texas have joined Louisiana in adding a FAFSA graduation requirement, with Michigan, Indiana, California and the District of Columbia also considering similar policies.

Dr. Laura Perna, Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, states that financial aid is a critical lever for increasing postsecondary attainment in the United States, and perhaps the most useful tool for policymakers in increasing college access for students from low-income communities. She also adds that data consistently points to money being the primary barrier for academically qualified students who do not enroll in college.[4]

According to the National College Access Network, students who could benefit from financial aid the most are less likely to apply. According to NCAN, students do not complete the FAFSA because they believe it’s too complicated, they don’t think they are eligible or they don’t even know that financial aid exists.[5] Completing the FAFSA application can be daunting, but there is a plethora of information available to support students and families in the process.

Below are two resources that can be very helpful in navigating the FAFSA completion process for students and families:

College access and affordability continue to be a hurdle for many students from low-income high schools. Completing the FAFSA application does not solve the problem, but it is one step closer to creating a more equitable education landscape.

[1]National Student Clearinghouse: High School Benchmarks – 2019

[2]National Center for Student Statistics: Education Longitudinal Study of 2002

[3]LA DOE: Louisiana Bypasses Tennessee to Become No. 1 in Nation for FAFSA Completion

[4]University of Pennsylvania: Financial Aid and College Enrollment

[5]National College Attainment Network

Topics College and Career Readiness K 12

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