Takeaway: Organizations across the country are working tirelessly to help students complete the FAFSA and stay on a postsecondary path, despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

By MorraLee Keller, Director of Technical Assistance, National College Attainment Network

It’s a fact: As of the end of April, FAFSA completion numbers are behind compared to the same time last year. Completions by high school seniors and renewals from currently enrolled students are both lagging. Even more devastating is that we’re seeing the largest declines among Pell Grant-eligible students.

The gaps have grown dramatically since March, when college and K-12 education was interrupted by COVID-19. A concerted effort is needed to reverse these trends and keep students on track for enrolling in college this fall.

College access programs and school counselors had to make an abrupt shift to virtual advising in March, with a focus on seniors and completing all the critical steps for a transition to postsecondary education and/or the workforce. Advisers and counselors continue to provide individual assistance to students and families that still need to complete a FAFSA. However, it is going to take large-scale FAFSA assistance efforts to pick up these dropping numbers.

NCAN has identified a number of these efforts, which we encourage students and families to take advantage of. We also urge all states to continue or develop FAFSA completion supports.

National Resources and Efforts

Federal Student Aid: For general information about federal student financial assistance programs, help completing the FAFSA, and to obtain federal student aid publications, call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). The TDD number for hearing-impaired individuals is 1-800-730-8913. Help is also available on the FSA website.

College Board, in partnership with Benefits Data Trust: These organizations developed a chatbot to help with FAFSA completion. It is available to high school seniors, current college students, and adult learners. Students must text to begin the service.

State Resources and Efforts

Arizona: Benji is a chabot available to help students and families with FAFSA completion.

Hawaii: Hawaii P-20 will start a “Next Steps to Your Future” summer advising campaign. Students will receive customized text messages from a dedicated adviser to assist with college/career transition. The state has also set up a FAFSA email hotline: FAFSA@hawaii.edu.

Illinois: Illinois Student Assistance Commission is providing free virtual college planning and financial aid advising and operates a free text helpline.

Indiana: Learn More Indiana is conducting a senior survey. Depending on student responses, information is being distributed to various agencies to provide support for transition after high school. Indiana also extended the state grant application deadline beyond April 15 for as long as funding exists.

Iowa: Iowa College Access Network (ICAN) continues to offer services via phone and virtual appointments via Zoom, Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Iowa is also administering a statewide texting campaign to seniors.

Louisiana: The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) is offering virtual office hours to assist people with questions about the FAFSA and state financial aid programs.

Michigan: Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) launched a free college advising hotline for high school seniors earlier this month and plans to run it at least through mid-June, possibly throughout the summer. It is being staffed by AmeriCorps advisers and supervised by MCAN staff.

Mississippi: Get2College staff members are available for virtual and telephone appointments to help Mississippi students and families. Students may contact the offices or go online to schedule an appointment. A live chat is also available online during business hours.

Nebraska: EducationQuest Foundation staff are available to help students through the college planning and financial aid processes. Students should call the nearest office to set up an online or phone appointment. Help is also available in Spanish.

New Hampshire: The NHHEAF Network’s Center for College Planning (CCP) continues to help all New Hampshire students with filing the 2020-21 FAFSA via virtual counseling appointments. To schedule an appointment with a college outreach specialist, call (888) 747-2382, ext. 119, or email collegeplanning@nhheaf.org.

Rhode Island: The College Crusade of Rhode Island will open its FAFSA completion assistance to any high school senior in the state. All appointments will take place virtually. To schedule an appointment with a College Crusade adviser, email fafsa@thecollegecrusade.org or text the word FAFSA to 95577.

Washington: Otterbot is a free texting service designed to help Washington students navigate financial aid for college and career education. Students can access Otterbot via text message 24 hours a day, seven days a week by texting “Hi Otter” to 360-928-7281.

NCAN will continue to search for resources to support our members and their students.

If your state has a current large-scale FAFSA completion effort underway, we would like to add it to this resource list. Please send a brief description and any appropriate web links to MorraLee Keller, kellerm@ncan.org.

(Photo by Qim Manifester on Unsplash)

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