Though Arizona’s temperatures are usually pretty hot, the state’s FAFSA completion rate is not. Forty three percent of college seniors successfully completed the FAFSA last year, about 17 percent under the national average.
Arizona ranks 48, out of 50 when it comes to FAFSA completion rates. The state has struggled for quite some time to get more students to apply for federal aid heading into college. The state-wide goal for the 2018-19 academic year was to get the overall percentage to 50 percent, according to Achieve60 AZ and the FAFSA Challenge. This is all part of a plan to eventually reach 60 percent, the national average.
FAFSA Challenge was created by the Arizona Governor’s Office of Education in hopes of getting more students to finish their FAFSA, while also helping them throughout the process.
“It’s an initiative aimed at increasing FAFSA completions among high school students in Arizona,” Project Manager for the FAFSA Challenge, Julie Sainz said.
“The national average last year was actually 60.9 percent,” Sainz said. “I think among that; many students have misconceptions about the FAFSA. A lot of students state-wide don’t know what the form is, or students don’t think that they’ll actually qualify.”
Many students are deterred from completing the FAFSA due to a lack of education and information on it. Amanda Nolasco is the counselor facilitator for the Phoenix Union High School District. Nolasco helps counselors achieve their goals in helping students get the federal aid and ultimately be able to attend college.
However, Nolasco believes that some of the struggle may come from staff not being fully aware of what the FAFS is, because it is not a part of their training.
“This is not part of our professional program. We aren’t really trained in how to do all this stuff when we’re doing our master’s program,” Nolasco said. “It’s super important that our counselors are given a lot of support through our nonprofit and community partners in terms of training to make sure that they are comfortable in helping students through this process.”
Counselors throughout the PUHSD are one of the main lines of support for these students, but sometimes they are not equipped with the best tools themselves to help each student out.
Teresa Haggerty is one of those counselors. Haggerty is a counselor at one of PUHSD’s schools, Phoenix Union Bioscience High School. Phoenix Bioscience is one of the schools in the district with a higher completion rate, sitting at just about 75 percent. However, some students still slip through the cracks. There are various factors that can contribute to this.
“Every year, we have a small number of students that may not be eligible,” Haggerty said. “They might be undocumented students.”
Haggerty also said that some of the students that don’t apply for the FAFSA also have thoughts about joining the army or military, in which case they would not have to apple for the FAFSA.
Haggerty also said that the school is doing all that it can to make sure that nearly 100 percent of students complete the FAFSA. Doing things such as a boot camp during the summer.
According to FAFSA Challenge, the percentage of successfully completed FAFSAs right now is 34 percent. PUHSD is trying to raise that number by collaborating with various organizations. College Depot is one of those organizations, they help students understand the FAFSA while also making sure that they mindfully complete it.
Achieve60 AZ, one of FAFSA Challenge’s partners, did not get back to comment on the topic.
The state hopes to eventually achieve a completion rate of about 75 percent in 11 years, according to FAFSA Challenge and Achieve60 AZ.