Only about one in eight high school seniors at District of Columbia public schools have completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at this stage in the application cycle. These completion rates suggest that while some District of Columbia high schools are well on their way to getting students financially prepared for college, others haven’t had a single student complete the form yet.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Education began releasing high school-level FAFSA completion data organized by state. The data include both public and private high schools all across the country.
This year, the data are available in real-time and the Department will be updating the data throughout the spring as more students complete the FAFSA and apply to college. I’ll be tracking them for DC schools here at the Quick and the Ed, but any school, district, parent, or reporter can download the data and track progress in their local area.
To show how well schools are ensuring that high school seniors are financially prepared for college, I calculated FAFSA Completion Rates* for 32 public high schools in the District. Overall, these schools enrolled 3,494 students entering 12thgrade this year, but only 436, or 12.5 percent, had completed a FAFSA since the filing period began earlier this month. Most colleges and universities have February or March deadlines for completing the FAFSA and filing for financial aid, so students still have a little time before they need to complete it. But those deadlines are fast approaching.
The chart below breaks down how each school performed. Each vertical bar (or a space where a bar should be) represents one D.C. public school. The dotted vertical line separates traditional public schools operated by the District of Columbia Public Schools from public charter schools. At this point, the charter schools have a slight edge—14.3 percent versus 11.6 percent—but neither sector is performing very well. For some context, last year the traditional public schools had a FAFSA completion rate of 64 percent, while only 59 percent of charter school students completed the form.
At the school level, nearly half of the graduating class at Banneker High School, a magnet school in Ward 1, has already completed the FAFSA. More than a quarter of the seniors at SEED Charter School, the Ellington School of the Arts, and Thurgood Marshall Academy have all completed it. On the other end, not a single student at Moore, Roosevelt, National Collegiate, Next Step, Options, Perry Street Prep, or Washington Latin High School has completed a FAFSA. Again, those students have some time still—and schools could have plans for a large completion push next month—but it’s troubling that so many schools still have so far to go.
These data are not merely interesting. As I wrote in November, they also have real consequences for students’ lives:
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, and 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 complete a FAFSA.
Schools have the power to change these rates now. A principal could decree that students at her school can’t take part in the graduation ceremony later this spring unless they’ve completed the FAFSA (like paying library fines or parking fees, students could still earn a diploma; they just couldn’t join the celebration). School counselors can follow the rates at their school and launch campaigns to raise awareness and support students in completing the forms. D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Scot Pearson, the Executive Director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, could publicly announce that they will be adding FAFSA completion rates to their existing high school progress reports. These are free, publicly available data, available in real time. Schools should be using them to improve outcomes for students.
*For details on the FAFSA completion numbers, see here. To calculate the FAFSA Completion Rate by high school, I used the number of 11th grade students enrolled in DC public high schools in 2011-12 as the denominator. This is the most recent, publicly available data on DC student enrollment, but, because it assumes last year’s 11th graders become this year’s 12th graders, it means that any enrollment changes (such as students dropping out between 11th and 12th grade) will affect the calculations used here. The charts also exclude very small schools with fewer than ten students.