News: Data, Research & Evaluation

Evaluators Identify Promising Practices From the 2018-19 FAFSA Completion Challenge

Monday, March 9, 2020  
Posted by: Sara Melnick, Deputy Director
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ASA Research recently released their evaluation of NCAN's 2018-19 FAFSA Completion Challenge. The report, “Staking Their Claim: Promising Practices for Facilitating FAFSA Completion,” identifies essential conditions, promising practices, challenges, and recommendations for increasing Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion, a major barrier to college access and attainment for students from low-income backgrounds. In addition to the full report, ASA released detailed case studies of five of the Challenge grantee sites. These case studies highlight hurdles each site encountered, along with some lessons learned.

This second NCAN FAFSA Completion Challenge, funded by the Kresge Foundation and Ascendium Education Group, awarded grants to 25 cities with lower-than-average FAFSA completion rates, with the charge to raise these rates by 5 percentage points for the high school graduating class of 2019 over that of the class of 2018. Using grant funds, several cities across the country – led by a mix of school districts, postsecondary institutions, community-based organizations, and foundations – improved completion rates with a combination of innovative approaches and long-proven tactics.

The essential conditions identified by ASA Research – conditions that need to be in place to successfully implement promising FAFSA completion strategies – include engaged leadership, trained FAFSA experts, a core planning committee, data to track student completions and target noncompleters, and ongoing assessment and adjustment of strategies.

The promising strategies include one-on-one assistance, peer and near-peer advisers, incentives for students and staff, districtwide competitions, and FAFSA completion campaigns.

The barriers to increasing FAFSA completion include parent/family engagement, local cultural and economic conditions, prevailing FAFSA myths and misperceptions, limited staff capacity, data access/use and matching, and FAFSA verification.

Policy and practice recommendations to help overcome the aforementioned barriers include early and targeted parent/family engagement/education and supporting students through the verification process.

Recommendations emerging from this evaluation emphasize the importance of local and school leaders embracing the importance of FAFSA completion and its connection to college degree attainment, social mobility, and the local economy. When local leaders make FAFSA completion a priority, the message that applying for financial aid is not only beneficial, but imperative reverberates throughout the school and college access staff working directly with students, and throughout the community.

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