The RISE Network Partners with the State of Connecticut to Increase Free Application for Federal Student Aid Rates

Postsecondary Readiness

Schools Participating in the 2021 FAFSA Challenge Collectively Increased Their Completion Rates With 42 Percent Exceeding Their 2020 Rates by 5 Points or More

NEW HAVEN, CT –  The first year of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Challenge in 2020-2021 saw participating Connecticut schools raise application completion rates by an average of 4 percent. For the 2021-2022 school year, the state of Connecticut, in partnership with Connecticut RISE Network, set a goal of raising completion rates by 5 percent.

The FAFSA Challenge is a response to the pandemic’s impact on lowering completion rates and aims to address issues of secondary education access and affordability, particularly for historically marginalized subgroups. By increasing the percentage of applications for financial aid, thousands of students can more equitably access postsecondary education. In Connecticut, where an estimated 70 percent of jobs require 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 completers are 84 percent more likely to immediately enroll in postsecondary education.

“Every year, we see that FAFSA completion has the power to transform lives. By completing the FAFSA, students and families can access the resources they deserve to pursue their dreams of higher education. However, we also know the FAFSA can be daunting and too many students do not complete this key access milestone,” said Emily Pallin, Executive Director of the RISE Network. “By working together as a statewide community, we are excited to once again improve FAFSA completion rates, share promising practices, and close access and opportunity gaps for all Connecticut students.” 

The members of Platt High School’s winning FAFSA Task Force team

In 2020-21 schools participating in the FAFSA Challenge collectively increased their completion rates by nearly 4 percentage points, while the country’s FAFSA completion rates declined by over 4 percent relative to 2020. Additionally, 42 percent of the high schools participating in the 2021 FAFSA Challenge exceeded their 2020 FAFSA completion rates in 2021 by 5 percentage points or more. The state is recognizing four schools for achieving the highest year-over-year improvements and the overall highest completion rates through the 2020-21 FAFSA Challenge — Synergy Alternative Program in East Hartford, Orville H. Platt High School in Meriden, West Haven High School in West Haven, and P-TECH Norwalk in Norwalk — with improvements in FAFSA completion rates from 2019-20 to 2020-21 of anywhere from approximately 11 to 43 percentage points with one school achieving a rate of nearly 78 percent in 2020-21 FAFSA completion rates.

On Sept. 24, Lamont and State Department of Education Commissioner Russell-Tucker were in West Haven to celebrate schools and districts around the state for successfully improving FAFSA completion rates through the State’s inaugural FAFSA Challenge and to announce the launch of the 2021-22 statewide FAFSA Challenge. The 2021-22 statewide FAFSA Challenge builds on the success of last year’s inaugural competition, which invited school communities to pursue new and innovative strategies for assisting students throughout the FAFSA application process to help make college a more affordable postsecondary option for students.

The 2021-22 FAFSA Challenge invites 53 eligible high schools across 25 districts to apply for microgrants and additional resources to support their Class of 2022. Participating schools are encouraged to partner with a local institution of higher education or college-access nonprofit.

The Connecticut RISE Network will be facilitating a community of practice and providing additional coaching support to select schools to assist them in sharing and piloting innovative practices for engaging educators, students, and families at all stages of the FAFSA process. As with last year’s Challenge, winning high schools will be awarded cash prizes and recognized in the summer of 2022 for their growth and overall achievement in boosting FAFSA completion rates.

Find a complete list of winners, the 2021-22 FAFSA Challenge application, and registration for an informational webinar on the Challenge, as well as eligibility determination, selection criteria, grant awards, and application/challenge deadlines, on the Connecticut State Department of Education website.