News: Financial Aid

How Arizona Has Increased Its FAFSA Completion Capacity

Thursday, January 2, 2020  
Share |

By Rich Nickel, President and CEO, College Success Arizona, and Roxanne Dewyer-Murphy, Director, AzCAN

Over the last several years, Arizona has made significant strides in helping more of its students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a crucial step on these students' journey to postsecondary education.

AzCAN is pleased to have been selected by NCAN to participate in the Kresge FAFSA Completion Challenge in 2016. Through this project, Phoenix Union High School District (PUHSD) worked collaboratively with AzCAN and aligned community partners, like Be A Leader Foundation and Arizona State University (ASU), to exceed the 40% FAFSA completion goal set by the City of Phoenix and increase college-going rates for the graduating high school class of 2017.

The grant funds supported the district’s college marketing campaign and FAFSA drives as well as summer collaboration efforts with high school counselors. Based on the district’s collaborative FAFSA completion success, it received additional reward money from NCAN to continue raising FAFSA completion rates for the high school class of 2018.

Not only did the Kresge FASFA Completion Challenge help low-income and underrepresented students in Phoenix successfully access federal, state, and institutional financial aid, it also catalyzed a community-led movement to increase FAFSA completion rates for all high school seniors in Arizona.

In spring 2017, the Arizona State Board of Education, guided by stakeholders, educational partners, and AzCAN members, redefined the meaning of college and career ready to include completion of the FAFSA in Arizona’s accountability system. For the first time in state history, schools began to collect data and report on the number of high school seniors who completed a FAFSA.

Recognizing the role of FASFA completion in increasing participation in postsecondary education, Gov. Ducey, on Sept. 21, 2018, joined by the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education, Helios Education Foundation, College Success Arizona, Achieve60AZ, and AzCAN, announced a state goal for FAFSA completion for the 2018-19 school year: 50% of Arizona’s high school seniors would complete the FASFA by June 30, 2019.

The statewide AZ FAFSA Challenge utilized a variety of methods to deliver assistance to students, families, and educators in the 2018-19 school year. The approaches included development and delivery of FAFSA trainings and webinars to educators statewide. An interactive dashboard was developed and utilized by schools to track progress towards the 50% FAFSA completion goal.

The AZ FAFSA Challenge continues to promote and increase FAFSA completions to achieve the new 2019-20 school year goal of 52% via a dashboard and website, financial incentives and challenges, trainings, and webinars. Arizona will increase FAFSA completion rates to 79% by 2030.

NCAN, funded by The Kresge Foundation and Ascendium Education Group, launched a new FASFA Completion Challenge in spring 2018 to 25 cities across the country, which included Mesa and Tucson, Arizona. Gilbert and Glendale were also identified as “Rising FAFSA” cities and took part in institutionalizing FAFSA in their cities through collaborative strategies. Mesa’s effort so substantially boosted FAFSA completion rates for the high school class of 2019, they were awarded the $100,000 grand prize at the 2019 NCAN National Conference to continue FAFSA completion efforts.

In the same year, Schmidt Futures enlisted ASU to participate in the Alliance for the American Dream, an initiative to increase the net income of 10,000 local households by 10% through innovative solutions. Project Benjamin, a coalition of Arizona organizations, formed and introduced a FAFSA chatbot powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to scale an already successful FAFSA completion model. Project Benjamin shared first place and was awarded $1 million to deploy the FAFSA chatbot in 15 school districts and launch statewide engagement campaigns to encourage more students to complete the FAFSA.

Arizona’s college access professionals and College Success Arizona commend NCAN for investing in FAFSA completion efforts over the past three years. The support and expertise encouraged historic increases in FAFSA completion rates for cities across Arizona and increased capacity to help low- and middle-income students access the financial aid needed to enroll and succeed in postsecondary education.

This content was excerpted from a letter that AzCAN and College Success Arizona wrote to NCAN in October 2019. You can read the full letter here.

Read More: