By Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation, NCAN
NCAN’s #FormYourFuture FAFSA Tracker has become a favored resource for policymakers, practitioners, and the public, and it returns now just in time for the 2021-22 FAFSA cycle.
The Tracker recently underwent a technical and aesthetic facelift that streamlines its features and adds new ones that NCAN hopes will improve usability as visitors track Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completions at the national, state, city, district, and school levels.
Earlier this month, Federal Student Aid released the first two batches of data for the cycle on high school seniors’ FAFSA completions. NCAN anticipates updating the FAFSA Tracker on a weekly basis from now until June 30 and semi-monthly thereafter.
This is the fourth FAFSA cycle the Tracker will cover. The tool got its start during the 2018-19 FAFSA cycle (2017-18 academic year).
Some features will be familiar to longtime users; the landing page still starts off by describing the state of FAFSA completion nationally. It then highlights the top five states by year-over-year percent change and estimated percentage of the senior class completing before offering the full rankings. New feature alert: Rolling over a state in the rankings chart will pop up a comparison of that state’s progress against the nation’s overall.
Clicking on the “View State Data” button at the bottom of the page takes users to a state profile page. Selecting a state with the drop-down menu displays that state’s data by a variety of high school characteristics. Scrolling further down, users can filter by city, district, and school and see rankings of high schools at each level by year-over-year percent change in FAFSA completions.
Especially this last spring, interest in and usage of the FAFSA Tracker swelled as the COVID-19 pandemic severely reduced the number of students completing a FAFSA. Through Sept. 11, there were 4.2% fewer FAFSAs completed than through last year, representing about 100,000 fewer students who may have left federal grant and loan aid on the table. Only Hawaii finished the 2020-21 FAFSA cycle with more completions than the 2019-20 cycle.
NCAN estimates that just 61.2% of the class of 2020 completed a FAFSA, which is less than the 62% that completed through late August 2019 in the previous cycle.
Although the Tracker now displays data from the first several days of the 2021-22 cycle, we shouldn’t expect to learn too much from this initial batch of information. It will be tempting to project all kinds of hypotheses about how the COVID-19 will affect FAFSA completion, but resist that temptation.
One data point does not a trend make, and the picture will be clearer on Nov. 1 than it is today.
As users explore the revamped FAFSA Tracker, they should be sure to report any bugs or glitches to Bill DeBaun, NCAN’s director of data and evaluation, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Did the makeover leave features you used often on the cutting room floor? Send that feedback, too!