NCAN member Woodward Hines Education Foundation’s Get2College program knows that moving the needle on FAFSA completion isn’t easy. It takes creativity, partnerships, and a belief that “First U-HAFTA FAFSA®” if you want to pursue postsecondary education.
Over the past several years, Get2College has worked to increase FAFSA completion in Mississippi, one of the nation’s poorest states. Get2College offers free one-on-one FAFSA support for students and families in each of its three centers and at high schools across the state. Get2College even offers virtual FAFSA support for students who are unable to visit a center or attend an in-school FAFSA completion event.
“It wasn’t before long that we realized that we had reached maximum capacity in our ability to provide one-on-one FAFSA completion assistance,” said Kierstan Dufour, Get2College assistant director and project manager. “We soon realized that we couldn’t go at it alone, and we shouldn’t. Partnerships have become a hallmark of the Get2College strategy of increasing FAFSA completion in Mississippi.”
Get2College began hosting regular FAFSA volunteer training sessions for college and university staff and any other interested volunteers. The training was designed to prepare the volunteers to assist with one-on-one FAFSA completion. The topics discussed included how to avoid common FAFSA errors by helping students understand terms such as “dependency status” and “household size” as well as how to help students determine whose income information to use on the FAFSA. The training also provided guidance on how volunteers can incorporate college timeline information and general financial aid knowledge throughout a one-on-one FAFSA appointment.
And these training sessions worked. In a matter of months, Get2College had a network of people, including all of Mississippi’s community colleges, ready to participate in FAFSA completion events in high schools statewide.
Mississippi has seen an increase in FAFSA completion over the past several years. Right now, Mississippi is No. 4 in the nation for FAFSA completion among 2018 high school graduates, according to FCAN’s FAFSA completion dashboard. This may, at least in part, be a result of an increased number of FAFSA completion partnerships between high schools, community colleges, universities, and community organizations.
This year, Get2College is expanding its efforts through the launch of the First U-HAFTA FAFSA® Challenge for financial aid administrators in Mississippi. As a part of the challenge, participating college or university financial aid administrators are asked to adopt a high school that had a FAFSA completion rate of less than 50 percent, as of March 31, 2018. March 31 is a benchmark date for Get2College efforts, as it is the priority deadline for the MS HELP grant, a state grant that covers tuition and fees at a public institution in Mississippi for low-income students. Challenge participants who top each of the following three categories will receive a $1,000 prize:
- Overall highest % FAFSA completion
- Overall highest % increase
- Most innovative strategy for creating a college-going culture and increasing FAFSA completion
“We know that FAFSA completion is a good predictor of a student’s likelihood to go to college,” said Ann Hendrick, director of the Get2College program, who spent almost twenty years working in financial aid. “We feel that expanding our network of FAFSA champions to include financial aid administrators is a great next step in increasing FAFSA completion and ultimately changing the lives of students in Mississippi.”