Grantee Sees FAFSA Completion as Gateway to Stronger Economy

March 28, 2019

By Jack Porter, Advocacy Associate

Arizona finished the 2018-19 FAFSA cycle ahead of only two other states, rounding out the year with a 43 percent completion rate among high school seniors. Last month, NCAN member and advocacy grantee College Success Arizona (CSA) released a policy brief that outlines how improvement on this front can spur economic growth in Arizona.

A more educated workforce can provide a boost to state economies. But in order to access postsecondary education, many students need financial aid. To obtain this aid, students must fill out the FAFSA. Students who complete a FAFSA are 63 percent more likely to enroll and 73 percent more likely to persist in higher education than their non-filing peers.

“Providing more students in our state with the opportunity to access and complete a postsecondary education is a goal that is well within our reach and one that will improve the economy in our state,” said President and CEO of College Success Arizona Rich Nickel. “And that process starts with the FAFSA.”

CSA leverages a top-line figure to make its case with regard to the economic impact that increased attainment could have on the state’s economy: According to a study commissioned by the organization, the state would add $6.4 billion in social and fiscal gains over the lifetime of each cohort of students if it increased the percentage of Arizonans with an associate degree or higher-level credential by 3.8 percentage points. This increase would put the state on par with the national average attainment rate, which currently sits at 42.4 percent, according to Lumina Foundation. The study and resulting report classify increased earnings, better health, reduced crime and welfare dependence, and improved economic competitiveness as social gains, while fiscal gains are defined as “the lifetime effects of increased tax revenue and decreased government spending.”

(Image via College Success Arizona)

To achieve that attainment rate and strengthen the economy, CSA cites increasing FAFSA completion as an essential first step. If Arizona improved its FAFSA completion rate by 7 percentage points this cycle, the state would see an estimated $250 million influx in additional federal financial aid, a prospect that prompted Gov. Doug Ducey to announce a new initiative at Arizona State University last September.

In his announcement, Ducey remarked, “Filling out a FAFSA lets students and their families know what federal money is available to fund a postsecondary education, including grants, scholarships, on-campus jobs, student loans, and more.” He later added: “Last year, 43 percent of Arizona seniors completed a FAFSA. Our goal this year is to increase that to at least 50 percent, so that more students can take their education to the next level and be successful in the workforce.”

According to NCAN’s #FormYourFuture FAFSA Tracker, Arizona currently stands in a similar rank as it did in the last cycle in terms of percent of high school seniors who have completed the FAFSA. However, it is tied for seventh place when it comes to the year-over-year increase in FAFSA completion.

As of March 15, FAFSA completion is down by 0.2 percent nationally, and only 18 states currently hold a year-over-year increase.

“We’re hopeful that our collective efforts will pay dividends,” Nickel said when commenting on the progress the Grand Canyon State has made so far. “I know that most states have seen a decrease from last year, and so we’re happy to be in the minority in that regard, but we’ll continue working with our partners so that we can reach our ultimate goal of 50 percent.”

With only a few months remaining in the high school year, NCAN projects that the nation’s FAFSA completion rate could remain steady, but is likely to decrease.

Tweet: Dynamic Duo Helps Detroit Students Get Degrees: via @collegeaccess

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