FAFSA Challenge Leads to Increase in Student Completion Rates

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The initiative, supported in part by the Connecticut RISE Network, saw schools participating in the 2021-22 FAFSA Challenge collectively increase their year-over-year FAFSA completion rates by 8 points from 42% to 50%

(NEW HAVEN, CT) — New data shows for the second year running, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Challenge was successful in increasing completion rates amongst Connecticut students.

The program, a partnership between the Connecticut State Department of Education and the Connecticut RISE Network, has proven to be successful in providing more students with access to postsecondary education.

“RISE is committed to closing student access and opportunity gaps, and promoting school-led innovation and cross-school learning,” said Emily Pallin, Executive Director at RISE. “Now for a second year, the FAFSA Challenge is helping more students pursue their dreams of higher education, while also creating a powerful statewide community where educators are exploring new strategies to promote postsecondary access and the affordability of higher education.”

On average, schools participating in the FAFSA Challenge increased their completion rates by 8 percentage points from 42 percent in 2021 to 50 percent in 2022.  During that same time period, statewide rates rose slightly to 56.4 percent.

Statewide increase from 54.% to 56.4%. All challenge schools increase from 41.9% to 50.1%.

The CSDE has prioritized FAFSA completion as a core access milestone and a lever to promote more equitable access to higher education. Through the FAFSA Challenge Connecticut aims to: improve student outcomes by supporting students in achieving their goals for college, career, and life success; promote access for all students by closing opportunity gaps for historically marginalized subgroups and school communities, and support schools in pursuing creative ideas to promote FAFSA completion.

For the 2021-22 FAFSA Challenge, the CSDE identified eligible high schools using 2020-21 FAFSA completion data, free or reduced lunch status data, and senior class size. In total, 40 high schools across 19 school districts took part in the Challenge.

Participating schools received grant funds to pursue new and innovative ideas to promote FAFSA completion. Schools also benefited from coaching and community of practice support from RISE, and free FAFSA trainings. By forming the FAFSA Challenge community of practice, teams worked together across schools and districts to share and spread promising practices. 

Educators across Challenge schools are key partners in advancing these goals. Through an end-of-year feedback survey, Gena Fuller, M.S., ATC, M.A., NCC, School Counselor at Warren Harding High School in Bridgeport, reflected, “[Students] learned more about the college process and had a better understanding for themselves rather than someone doing something for them or just telling them what to do. It assisted in self-advocacy, a skill they will need at their next level of education. Lastly, it reassured them that hard work does pay off and they will get rewarded for things that they follow through with.”

The FAFSA Challenge was launched during the 2020-21 school year in response to the pandemic’s impact on lowering completion rates and addressing issues of college access and affordability, particularly for historically marginalized subgroups. With more than 70 percent of Connecticut jobs requiring some form of education beyond a high school diploma, FAFSA completion is one of the best predictors of whether seniors will enroll in college as 84 percent of completers are more likely to enroll in postsecondary education immediately. 

Please find more information on the Connecticut FAFSA Challenge, including a list of participating schools and districts, on the Connecticut State Department of Education’s website. The 2022 FAFSA Challenge winners and details on the 2022-23 FAFSA Challenge will be announced at an in-person event this month.