Florida FAFSA Completion Challenge: Data-Driven Results and Creative Completion Strategies

November 8, 2016

By Courtney Argenti, Graduate Policy Intern

Last FAFSA season, NCAN member Florida College Access Network (Florida CAN), initiated a new annual campaign to increase FAFSA completion rates. The Florida FAFSA Completion Challenge rallies schools across the state to improve their completion rates by at least 5 percent. The inaugural year of the challenge, supported by NCAN member Helios Education Foundation and the Swift Family Foundation, brought promising results: 50 high schools and districts met that goal. For this year’s challenge, officials are hoping that even more schools see such success.  

The Florida FAFSA Finish Line data dashboard is the most innovative strategy of Florida CAN’s challenge. This tool is an interactive, public storefront for FAFSA completion data across Florida; it allows users to easily connect to data at the school, district, and state levels. Schools, researchers, and other education stakeholders can easily monitor and share the number of 12th graders at more than 600 public schools who have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The dashboard tool helps to identify successful completion strategies, said Troy Miller, Associate Director for Research & Policy at Florida CAN. “We are using the data to spotlight schools that are doing well. We learn from the schools that have an increase in FAFSA completion" from year to year, Miller said. "It’s always because of something." 

And last year's Challenge participants used some very creative and effective strategies. For example, the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership, high schools, and a local film festival got together to challenge students to raise awareness about the FAFSA by hosting a video contest. Other schools hosted FAFSA completion workshops, partnered with various media outlets to spread the word about FAFSA, and provided “sweet incentives” (read: pounds of candy) for students who completed the application. 

One college advisor even bought a “money suit” — a suit with dollar bills all over it — and wore it to school every week. “Students shortly caught onto the idea that this advisor is somebody who could help them find money for college,” Miller explained.

To help schools and districts achieve their FAFSA completion goals, Florida CAN has developed its own FAFSA Completion Toolkit, a comprehensive guide with resources and strategies to improve FAFSA completion. Florida CAN also offers an on-demand training webinar for school counselors, educators, and college access advisors interested in coordinating FAFSA activities in addition to college application week events at their schools. 

Here is a summary of Florida CAN’s recommended FAFSA completion strategies in the toolkit:

  1. Set your goal and track your data.
  2. Text students with important reminders.
  3. Provide incentives and engage in friendly competition. 
  4. Collaborate with community partners and champions. 
  5. Promote FAFSA completion through all available channels: media, in- and out-of-school campaigns, FAFSA workshops, phone banks, advertisements, etc.

Florida CAN is excited to continue the challenge this season. You can follow its successes in real time, through the data dashboard

Also visit Form Your Future, NCAN’s nation FAFSA completion campaign — a one-stop resource shop that includes toolkits for completing the FAFSA, FAFSA outreach, and hosting a FAFSA completion event.

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