BATON ROUGE, La. (KLFY) – Just two months before the priority deadline, more than half of Louisiana’s public high school seniors have made financing higher education opportunities a priority by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The Department of Education says the completion rate, at this point in time, is the highest in the state’s history and tops even the final application counts of previous completed cycles.
“This impressive completion rate, particularly at this stage in the process, signals progress in Louisiana,” said State Superintendent John White.
The state’s priority deadline for completion is July 1.
“Not only does it indicate more high school seniors and their families are embracing post-secondary education opportunities; they are taking advantage of the millions of dollars in federal grants, state programs, and other funding that would have otherwise been foregone.” said White.
The FAFSA is for all forms of federal financial aid, including Pell grants, work study programs, and federal student loans available to students to aid in the cost of education and technical training beyond high school.
It is also required for Louisiana graduates to receive priority consideration for TOPS Opportunity, Performance, Honors and Tech scholarships, which can also be used for college and technical training.
Historically, Louisiana’s FAFSA completion rate by high school seniors has been sub par.
In the 2014-15 school year, the last complete cycle, only 48 percent of public school graduates had completed the FAFSA by the end of the school year.
That was an increase of 4 percentage points from 2012-13, but remained below the national average of 55 percent.
By not completing the FAFSA at the national average rate of 55 percent, Louisiana students were foregoing roughly $54 million a year in federal grants for post-secondary education.
This is particularly troubling at a time when the state’s premier scholarship program is not providing students full funding.
By the end of this year’s application cycle, however, Louisiana’s completion rate is projected to match or exceed the national average.
To date, 17 school districts have already done so.
The uptick can be attributed to several key changes to the financial aid process. Last year, for the first time, the U.S. Department of Education opened the application window in October instead of January, for example, and the Louisiana Department of Education, in partnership with higher education and financial aid leaders and advocates, made a more concentrated effort to boost participation here.
The Department put forth a comprehensive plan to address the state’s low completion rates, and it encouraged professional school counselors statewide to advise all students–not just university-bound ones–to apply for federal aid and provided them with a set of applicable resources to further advance their work. The Department is also spearheading a social media campaign called “45 Minutes=Infinite Possibilities” that provides students and families with the tools they need to learn about the process and complete the FAFSA.
Partner agencies and organizations have provided additional guidance. Among other initiatives, the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) hosted “FAFSA Fridays” and “FAFSA Frenzy” events to assist families in navigating the process.
“We cannot say enough about the power of combined efforts towards a common goal,” said LOSFA Executive Director Dr. Sujuan Boutté. “This increase is the result of hard work on the part of a talented team of college access and outreach professionals here at LOSFA and at the partner entities.”
Boutté added, “We also want to thank our FAFSA Student Ambassadors and our LOSFA Student Interns who continued to amaze us with creative strategies for reaching and assisting students and families. Most of all, we commend the administrative and instructional staff in the school districts for collaborating with all of us to reinforce the value of and options for obtaining post-secondary education. All of these efforts drive home the point that completion of one form allows for multiple opportunities for financial assistance.”
To learn more about financial aid for students, click here.