Over 1.2 Million FAFSAs Completed this Cycle, a 6% Increase

January 12, 2018

By Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation

More than 1.2 million high school students completed the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) before Jan. 1 of the 2018-19 cycle, an increase of more than 6 percent over last year’s cycle and continued evidence of the impact of Early FAFSA. Further, nearly 1.4 million students submitted a FAFSA through Dec. 29, which also represents an increase of 6 percent over last year. These data come from Federal Student Aid’s FAFSA Completion by High School and Public School District tool.

Starting with the 2017-18 FAFSA cycle, students have been able to submit and complete the FAFSA three months earlier, starting Oct. 1; previously, the cycle began on Jan. 1. High school students and their families are obviously taking advantage of the opportunity, which can allow them to learn their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and Pell Grant status before applying for college.

“Last year’s FAFSA cycle demonstrated what we always suspected: given the chance, students interested in going to college want to start the process early,” Director of Policy and Advocacy Carrie Warick said. “That FAFSA completion numbers are still up 6 percent year-over-year is a very encouraging sign, but we still want to get to as close as possible to every high school senior completing a FAFSA.”

To that end, on Jan. 22, NCAN will launch the #FormYourFuture FAFSA Tracker. This interactive online dashboard will track and rank states’ progress toward 100 percent of their seniors completing the FAFSA, show week-to-week progress, and allow for comparisons between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 cycles at the national, state, and city levels.

The estimated 1,275,321 FAFSA completions through Dec. 29 represent 65 percent of the total number of FAFSA completions collected by June 30, 2017, the end of the previous FAFSA cycle. However, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education estimates that there are nearly 3.8 million 12th-grade students in the United States this academic year, and current FAFSA completions represent just 34 percent of that total. But certain states are further along: To date, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois all have high school FAFSA completions representing more than half of estimated seniors in their states.

NCAN continues to monitor and analyze these data for year-over-year trends. Many states have increased their FAFSA completions by this point in the cycle by double digits. Examples include Louisiana (+37.3%), the District of Columbia (+20.7%), Kansas (+18%), Mississippi (+16.3%), and Arizona (+16.1%). Conversely, some states are trailing their figures from last year and have room to improve (e.g., Wyoming [-2.7%], Oregon [-2.2%], and Montana [-1.4%]).

The FAFSA completion and submission figures are estimates that underrepresent the actual data because the reporting threshold for submissions and completions at the high school level is five students. Schools reporting submissions or completions as “<5” are counted as zero in NCAN’s analysis.

NCAN strengthened its comments to FAFSA completion as a lever and catalyst for college access even further this cycle and last with the Form Your Future campaign. Form Your Future is specifically focused on assisting low-income, minority students who would be the first in their family to attend college. They are less likely to apply for financial aid, even though they could benefit from it most. The campaign offers free tools including (click the following links to download) a FAFSA Guide, Outreach Toolkit and Event Toolkit for parents, schools, and other organizations that want to spur FAFSA completion in their community.

“Form Your Future aims to empower students and everyone interested in their postsecondary pathways with the information and resources to ensure they complete the FAFSA,” explained Elizabeth Morgan, director of external relations. “Far too many low-income and first-generation students leave resources on the table that would help them attend and complete college. Completing the FAFSA is a key step in that process.”

Throughout the remainder of the 2018-19 FAFSA cycle, NCAN will continue to provide updates about the progress that America’s high school seniors are making toward their postsecondary potential.

NCAN is grateful for the work of Dr. Nick Hillman and Ellie Bruecker in this area and specifically their analytical assistance.

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