As FAFSA completion rates drop during the pandemic, new toolkit offers support to high schools so they can help students with college financial aid applications

by | Oct 7, 2020 | Press Release

Education organizations across New York partner to support high schools in helping students complete financial aid forms for college 

NEW YORK – With data indicating that the percentage of high school seniors who completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in New York dropped as the coronavirus pandemic forced school closures last springThe Education Trust–New York and education organizations across the state are releasing the Financial Aid for College: High School Toolkit to support high schools in helping all students complete financial aid applications. 

The Financial Aid for College: High School Toolkit highlights 10 evidence-based strategies schools can use either remotely or in-person to help students with financial aid application completion, tips for tracking progress, and materials in English and Spanish that can be used to communicate with students and families. 

The resources – created in partnership with the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC), New York State Council of School Superintendents, the Options Center at Goddard Riverside, Hispanic Federation, New York Immigration Coalition, New York State Association for College Admission Counseling, and New York State School Counselors Association – include: 

  • Monthly checklists for schools on activities to support students in financial aid application completion;
  • Howto guides for hosting financial aid completion nights – remote or in personscheduling office hours, and using class time to help students complete financial aid forms; 
  • Sample lesson plans for using class time to complete financial aid forms; 
  • Sample social media posts, newsletter items, and correspondence with families in English and Spanish; 
  • Tips on how to use data to track progress; 
  • Answers to frequently asked questions about financial aid completion.

The organizations releasing the Toolkit will also hold several virtual training sessions for high school educators in how they can best use the resources in the Toolkit to assist their students with financial aid application completion. Learn more about the sessions here.  

“High schools have the power to make a dramatic difference in whether students and families have the support to complete financial aid applications for college, and despite the many challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, educators are committed to helping high school seniors realize the dream of a higher education,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust–New York. “This project spotlights the hard work that many schools are already doing to support their students in completing financial aid applications and provides resources so even more schools can take steps that research shows will help students realize the dream of a higher education.”  

Completing the FAFSA matters because, according to the National College Access Network, 90% of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA go to college immediately after graduation — compared to just 55% of seniors who do not complete the FAFSA.  

Yet an Ed Trust–NY analysis of FAFSA completion data found that in the 2019-20 school year, approximately 62% of New York State public high school seniors completed the FAFSA by June 26, representing a decline of more than 2 percentage points in FAFSA completions compared to both the 2018-19 and 2017-18 school years.Ed TrustNY’s analysis of FAFSA completion data also reveal that schools that enroll the largest shares of students from low-income backgrounds have a completion rate that is 13% lower than schools that enroll the smallest shares of students from low-income backgrounds.  

The toolkit is part of The New York Financial Aid for College Completion Project, which also includes:  

  • An interactive FAFSA completion tracker data tool that allows the public to track the progress of each New York high school, with new FAFSA completion estimates updated weekly starting in early 2021 and comparisons to similar schools and top performers. 
  • The thirdannual FAFSA Completion Challengewhich will recognize schools for high FAFSA completion rates and for improvements in FAFSA completion rates. Twelve awards will be granted to schools across the state. Each award will consist of $750 granted to the winning high schools for the purpose of providing a scholarship to one of its students.

“HESC is proud to partner with The Education Trust–New York on this valuable resource to assist schools in guiding high school seniors through the financial aid process,” said Dr. Guillermo Linares, president of the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation. “High schools play such a vital role in supporting students on their path to a higher education, especially for those students from low income families and who will be first-generation college students. Without their on-going support, many of these students may not have considered an education beyond high school.”  

“As school leaders, our goal is not only to make sure that students finish school, but that they leave school prepared to succeed on the path to adulthood,” said Charles Dedrick, executive director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. “For many, that will include pursuing further education. We thank The Education Trust–New York for its leadership in helping more students to take advantage of all the financial resources available to support their efforts.”  

Helping students get into college is not enough. If a student gets into a college but can’t pay for it, it’s just as bad as not getting into a college at all. Maybe worse,” said Sandy Jimenez, assistant director of training at the Options Center at Goddard Riverside. Helping students file the FAFSA is an essential part of the work counselors and advisors do. A toolkit that helps counselors/advisors reach students and their families, virtually or live, is very important especially now. Our students and their counselors need all the help they can get.”  

“The financial aid application process is the first step many students face in accessing higher education and the career opportunities it brings. With the income loss many families have experienced as a consequence of the pandemic, we know even more students will be in need of aid in the coming year,” said Frankie Miranda, president of Hispanic Federation. “Latinx students have been driving the college enrollment growth in the last few years and as the world continues to navigate the COVID-19 health crisis we cannot forget the importance of supporting them to have access to post-secondary opportunities. To meet this demand, Ed Trust–NY has brought together educators, counselors, school administrators, and non-profits to create this step-by-step guide designed to ensure every student has the ability to navigate the financial aid process. We are proud to be a part of this critical work.”  

“We commend Ed Trust–NY for creating this important resource, which will help schools better support immigrants in completing the FAFSA and other state financial aid applications,” said Kim Sykes, director of education policy at the New York Immigration Coalition. “Schools need comprehensive plans to help undocumented students and families complete financial aid applications, especially during this pandemic. This toolkit demystifies how to successfully apply for the NYS DREAM Act and all state financial aid applications, and gives schools best practices around collaborating with community-based organizations to ensure college access initiatives are culturally responsive.” 

“We are pleased to partner with The Education Trust–New York on the Financial Aid for College: High School Toolkit this year,” said Stephanie Espina, immediate past president of New York State Association for College Admission Counseling. “With the Toolkit, high schools have a clear roadmap to ensure robust FAFSA completion rates for students.” 

“The New York State School Counselors Association is pleased to support Ed Trust–NY in its work on The New York Financial Aid for College Completion Project,” said Bob Rotunda, executive director of the New York State School Counselors Association. It is well established that FAFSA completion leads to better outcomes in college applications, admissions, and completions. This toolkit is an invaluable resource to school counselors, who are deeply involved in this process.” 

Explore data from past years for each high school in the state, read more about FAFSA completion strategies being used at New York schools, and find additional resources at Complete Challenge rules can be found here.