Press Release

New data show that high schools serving the greatest share of students who are low-income continue to have lower FAFSA completion rates

NEW YORK – With data indicating that New York State’s high schools that serve the smallest share of students who are low-income have a 37% higher FAFSA completion rate than the schools with the greatest share of students who are low-income, The Education Trust–New York is expanding its New York FAFSA Completion Project to include new tools high schools can use to help more students complete college financial aid applications.

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (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. And, based on data released by NerdWallet, New Yorkers are missing out on an estimated $152 million in federal financial aid by not filling out the form — plus state TAP grants and Excelsior Scholarships.

Ed Trust–NY’s analysis shows that fewer than half of New York seniors have completed the FAFSA as of the end of January, consistent with the same period last year. The analysis also reveals a major equity gap: high schools with the highest share of students who are low-income so far have a 41.8% FAFSA completion rate, compared to a much higher 57.2% FAFSA completion rate in the schools serving the smallest share of students who are low-income.

“Access to financial aid is a key factor in whether students who are low-income have the opportunity to attend college,” 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 the FAFSA and provides resources so even more schools can take steps that research shows will help students realize the dream of a higher education.”

To support high schools in helping more students who are low-income complete the FAFSA, TAP grant application, NYS DREAM Act form, and other financial aid documents this year, The New York FAFSA Completion Project at NYFAFSAChallenge.org will include:

  • An interactive easy-to-use data tool that allows the public to track the progress of New York high schools, with new FAFSA completion estimates updated weekly and comparisons to similar schools and top performers.
  • The Financial Aid for College: High School Toolkit, which highlights eight evidence-based strategies schools can use to help students with FAFSA completion, tips for tracking progress, and materials in English and Spanish that can be used to communicate with students and families.
  • The New York FAFSA Completion Challenge, which 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.

“We know that FAFSA completion is a critical and evidence-based strategy to get more low-income students and students of color to and through college,” said Eric Waldo, executive director of Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative. “I’m thrilled that Ed Trust–NY is launching this FAFSA Completion Challenge and making it easier for students, counselors, and college success champions to help students navigate this critical component in their higher education journey.”

“Research shows that postsecondary education provides low-income students with a ladder to the middle class, which is why New York State offers multiple financial aid and support programs, including the Excelsior Scholarship, to help students attend college,” said Dr. Guillermo Linares, president of the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation. “Ensuring that students from low-income families complete the FAFSA is a critical first step in improving their ability to enter into and persist through college, and ultimately level their income earnings upon completing their degrees. HESC is pleased to support Ed Trust–NY in its efforts to improve completion rates among students from low-income households.”

“Having the ability to promote, track, and manage the FAFSA process will help students, parents, and school counselors as they work towards college admissions,” said Robert S. Rotunda, Ed.D., executive director of the New York State School Counselor Association. “The New York State School Counselor Association fully supports Ed Trust–NY’s effort as it expands its FAFSA Completion Challenge.”

“Through the implementation of the strategies included in this project, we can support counselors as they work towards better positioning students for degree completion and long-term financial stability,” said Stephanie Espina, president of the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling. “College affordability and the financial aid process should be viewed as opportunities, not setbacks, during the college enrollment process and within the context of student success. It is critical to raise awareness, promote equity, and provide as many students and families with this knowledge to make informed financial decisions.”

“We know how critical it is for students to apply for financial aid to ensure their higher education access and success. Thus, awareness and continuous support are essential to ensure that more of our students can complete financial aid forms,” said Diana E. Cruz, director of education policy at Hispanic Federation. “The tools designed by Ed Trust–NY are a robust set of steps to assist schools and community-based organizations supporting students to handle the overwhelming process of applying for financial aid. We are excited to see these instruments being utilized by educators all across the state with the common goal of helping students in high financial need.”

“Helping students with the FAFSA is an essential part of the work counselors and advisors do,” said Sandy Jimenez, assistant director of training for the Goddard Riverside Community Center. “It’s a crucial and often confusing part of helping students access college. Tools that help counselors and advisors reach out to students and families and track completion data help New York City students.”

Explore the data and read more about FAFSA completion strategies that are being used at New York schools NYFAFSAChallenge.org.

This project is made possible thanks in part to the generous support of the Heckscher Foundation for Children.

“Underserved families have a fundamental civil right to make an informed choice about where their children attend high school,” said Peter Sloane, CEO of the Heckscher Foundation for Children. “This tool shows them which schools are doing a better job of college preparation through FAFSA completion and pinpoints successful strategies that other schools should follow.”