Arizona sees lower college financial aid applications
Maintaining focus and maintaining grades has been a challenge for many high school students in the last year they have spent learning virtually due to the pandemic.
High school students faced the added challenge of having to prepare for post-secondary education, filling out the Federal Student Assistance Application (FAFSA) at home for a significant part of it.
Many still have not submitted it.
More than 3,000 younger seniors filled in than at the same time last year in Arizona, a drop of more than 9%, according to data tracked by the National College Attainment Network as part of its campaign #FormYourFuture. This could signal a possible drop in post-secondary enrollment for the next school year.
The drop comes on top of the smaller drop from last year.
The decline was most marked in high schools in low-income areas and in communities of color.
The FAFSA allows the United States Department of Education to determine an applicant’s possible eligibility for financial assistance in the form of loans, grants or scholarships or work studies.
More than 27,400 Arizona high school students have so far completed an application, according to data shared by the Arizona Commission for Post-Secondary Education’s FAF $ A Challenge.
“Navigating the post-secondary process was not easy for most students and families before the pandemic, and it is especially difficult for those who come from low-income, first-generation backgrounds,” said Dolores Ramirez, specialist in the Phoenix Union High School District post-secondary articulation.
Students like Ashley Luna, senior at Phoenix Metro Tech High School, had to apply to colleges and file a FAFSA remotely.
“I’m a first generation student, so (my parents) didn’t know it was a thing, or what it really looked like,” Luna said.
Many schools and organizations across the state are trying to help students with forms and increase the completion rate.
College Success Arizona, Arizona State University, and the Be A Leader Foundation have hosted 11 FAFSA in-car application support events since November.
A final drive-through event for families is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday in the parking lot of the Tempe Public Library. Families can find out more and register for a time slot here.
Applicants can start or continue their application on the Federal Student Aid website.
What this means for the 2021 class
The decline in applications is greater in schools with a larger number of minority students, which experienced a 15% drop, and in Title I schools (with a high percentage of students from families with low income), which saw a drop of almost 11%. .
Families in zip codes in the Upper District of Phoenix Union Union, a predominantly Hispanic district, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. His schools stayed with distance learning for an entire year, returning to classrooms in March.
“Many students work or have taken on a lot more responsibility inside and outside the home in order to help with household expenses that have been affected by COVID,” Ramirez said. “It is difficult for young adults to understand the long-term implications on career wages if they are unable to pursue a post-secondary education due to family, time and financial needs. “
Julie Sainz, head of the state’s FAFSA Challenge project, said, “Completion of FAFSA is very much related to the likelihood of a student enrolling in some kind of post-secondary education. “
The ability to afford post-secondary education is a key indicator of a student’s decision to continue with their education, making the FAFSA a key step towards academic success.
The United States saw a 6.8% drop in college enrollment last fall, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Maricopa County Community Colleges have seen a steep decline from recent years. There were 17,400 fewer students enrolled in fall 2020 compared to fall 2019, a decrease of 14.5%.
Patricia Peppin, Acting Dean of Enrollment Services at Mesa Community College, said enrollment has been down so far this year compared to enrollment numbers in 2020 and 2019.
“Many people have lost their jobs due to COVID and their priority is being able to provide for themselves and their families,” Peppin said in an emailed statement. “Education is not becoming their priority in these difficult times.
“Every year, students leave millions of dollars in free money on the table because they didn’t complete the FAFSA,” Sainz said. “We want students and families to know that the FAFSA is a resource that can help them pay for post-secondary education, which includes a four-year university, community college, vocational school, or even a certificate program.”
Arizona was already late
Arizona is one of the states with the lowest FAFSA completion rate in the country. It currently ranks 49th with just over 33% of high school students requesting financial aid, according to data from the #FormYourFuture campaign.
Tennessee is currently in the top spot, with a FAFSA completion rate above 69%.
State figures are consistent with declining completion rates across the country since the pandemic. The 2021 class of completion rate is currently 7% lower than last year at this time. This equates to more than 1.7 million fewer high school students applying for federal aid compared to last year
Seeing how low the FAFSA completion rate was in Arizona, the Governor’s Office of Education, the Arizona Post-Secondary Education Commission and other organizations launched the FAF $ A Challenge in 2019 with the ultimate goal of achieving a high school completion rate of 78% by 2030.
The initiative sets annual goals and provides tools and resources for counselors and families to support students throughout the application process. It also has an online data dashboard, which displays the FAFSA completion data it collects. Unlike the #FormYourFuture campaign, it does not include private and online school numbers.
“Having a state goal really gives us sort of a north star to strive towards for completion of the FAFSA, and I think that’s definitely going to continue,” Sainz said. “We will continue to grow as a state and hopefully rise through the ranks. It’s just that COVID obviously kind of put a bit of a shock absorber on things. “
More than 11,800 applications are expected to be submitted by the end of June to reach the 2021 FAF $ A Challenge target of a 52% success rate.
Although schools went virtual towards the end of last school year, the percentage of FAFSA completed fell by 1% in the state. Still, the state’s public universities saw a 4.5% increase in enrollment in fall 2020, with much of the enrollment occurring in online programs, according to a report by the Arizona Board of Regents.
Regents and state universities will not know the official impact of these FAFSA completion drops on enrollment numbers until fall.
It is not too late
Luna had to apply for FAFSA from home and said she found the questions difficult to answer without her parents understanding, but she was able to complete the form. She plans to study engineering at Smith College in Massachusetts.
Organizations and schools are working to get more students to apply for financial aid that can help them pursue post-secondary education.
The FAF $ A challenge rewards schools for their efforts through monthly competitions.
Catalina Foothills placed first in the monthly FAF $ A Challenge competition in February in the Grandes Écoles category with a score of 58%. Tucson College High School led the medium enrollment category with an 85% completion rate, and Gilbert Classical High School led the small school category with a 92% completion rate.
The winners for the month of March will be announced in the coming weeks.
College Success Arizona has an artificial intelligence text service called Benji. Families can choose to receive reminders and support throughout the student application process.
A candidate can text Benji and say, “Hey, I need someone to help me with my FAFSA”. he will then pass that information on to one of the organization’s partners, be it College Depot in Phoenix, Mesa Counts on College or Tempe College Connect, said Heidi Doxey, the organization’s community initiatives program manager.
Aid can take many forms and there are no specific income conditions. Several scholarships require applicants to have filed a FAFSA to be considered.
“There’s nothing wrong with filling it out, and you might qualify,” adviser Julie McCrea tells Catalina Foothills Families.
Applicants can text “Hi Benji”, the FAFSA digital assistant, to 602-786-8171. They can then send “#language” to text with Benji in Spanish. They can also withdraw at any time. More information can be found on the Ask Benji website.
How to complete the FAFSA
- Create an account at fsaid.ed.gov. The student and a parent must each create an FSA identifier to use as an electronic signature. Parents without a Social Security number can sign using a signature page instead.
- Gather the necessary financial documents.
- Fill in the required information. Up to 10 post-secondary school choices can be listed.
- Check the emails for more information and next steps.
- Review and act on your rewards across schools.
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