You can’t get federal student aid unless you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Research suggests that helping students complete a FAFSA can increase the number of students who receive financial aid, the amount of aid they receive–even the proportion of students who enroll in college. The American Council on Education estimates that nearly one in five low-income students enrolled in college who would be eligible for federal Pell Grants never completes a FAFSA.
Starting with the 2012-13 school year, the U.S. Department of Education has started releasing high school-level FAFSA completion data, which anyone can download for free. It’s organized by state, and it includes both public and private high schools all across the country.
I downloaded the District of Columbia’s data and compared it to the number of 12th grade students enrolled in DC public high schools last year to calculate a FAFSA completion rate for 29 high schools.* Overall, these schools enrolled 2,991 12th graders in the 2011-12 school year. According to the most recent data released at the end of last week, 1,871 had completed a FAFSA.
The chart below breaks down how each school performed. The solid and heavy black horizontal line across the graph represents the city average (63 percent). Each vertical blue bar represents one school operated by the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), while the red bars represent individual public charter schools. Overall, the traditional public schools had a FAFSA completion rate of 64 percent, while only 59 percent of charter school students completed the form.
This chart is basically just an interesting data point right now. The students captured in the chart are gone. It’s November now, so the financial aid window at most colleges and universities has likely closed. As far as I know, no high school was held accountable for the results, no media outlet tracked the data, and nobody seems to be clamoring for improving the results next year. Although DCPS and the DC Public Charter School Board compile progress reports on their high schools that include data elements like Advanced Placement course-taking, college, applications, and college enrollment rates, but neither has incorporated FAFSA completion data into their progress reports of individual schools. Now they could.
Luckily, the feds are planning to do this again. Starting in January, they’ll be releasing new results for the 2012-13 school year. This will be real-time data, and it will be updated regularly as real, meaningful deadlines for financial aid approach. There was a rush of media attention when the Department announced this data for the first time last spring, but there wasn’t much follow up. This year, we’ll be following along on the Quick and the Ed and providing you with regular updates on how DC schools are doing in helping their students complete the FAFSA. Hopefully we won’t be the only ones paying attention.
*I excluded a few very small schools with fewer than ten students.
Photo Credit: Academic Directions