Innovative data platform helps high school counselors increase FAFSA completion rates, a leading indicator of college enrollment
Completion of a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is one of the strongest predictors of whether a student will pursue postsecondary education after high school. Simply by finishing the form, a student is 84 percent more likely to enroll in a college or trade school immediately after high school. Arizona currently ranks 48th in FAFSA completion when compared nationally.
In an effort to help more Arizona students complete the FAFSA and pursue a college degree, the Arizona Board of Regents, in partnership with Helios Education Foundation and the Arizona Department of Education, recently launched a new FAFSA platform – Arizona College Connect – that is being accessed by school counselors statewide. The new platform provides an interactive, customized communications portal to provide high school leaders with access to their student-level FAFSA data and other college attainment information. This allows high school staff to provide strategic outreach and one-on-one support to students needing assistance with completing the FAFSA and in turn provides opportunities to communicate the importance of this critical application.
The new data portal is funded by Helios Education Foundation and developed through a data partnership with the Arizona Department of Education.
“There is a clear need for an innovative intervention to ensure our high school seniors are not missing out on federal funding to pay for their postsecondary education,” said ABOR Chair Lyndel Manson. “We believe Arizona College Connect will be a game-changer in helping more students access and complete the FAFSA and pursue a college degree.”
Manson shared that no other state has ventured to create an interactive and robust project similar to this one. “With Arizona taking the lead in this work, we hope to set in motion a movement to increase FAFSA completion rates among our high school seniors and develop a national trend in presenting this data in a new creative way.”
According to the National College Attainment Network, Arizona high school seniors missed out on $104 million in available Pell Grant funding by not completing the FAFSA in 2021.
“High school counselors are already stretched thin,” said Helios President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Luna. “Implementing a simplified and automated process for helping students complete their FAFSA and college applications relieves some of their burden and moves the focus to the students who need the most help. Helios is proud to support this innovative new data platform.”
FAFSA completion has broader implications for the state. Arizona has struggled to boost its number of students who pursue some kind of education after high school – whether via a two-year college, four-year university or trade school. If Arizona’s high school completion, college enrollment and completion trends stay on their current trajectory, only 16.8 percent of today’s ninth graders will graduate from a four-year college by 2029. This is well below the national average and negatively impacts the future workforce availability in our state.
“Not only will this new platform help us identify students who need assistance with FAFSA completion, but it provides an opportunity for counselors to collaborate and share student outreach and best practices with each other,” said Arizona School Counselors Association Board Chair Brenda Vargas. “This is a new model for FAFSA completion strategies.” Vargas also serves as the director of counseling and social services at Chandler Unified School District.
“Increasing educational attainment in Arizona is vitally important – for our students, for our future workforce and for a vibrant economy,” said Chair Manson. “I am extremely appreciative of Helios Education Foundation and the Arizona Department of Education for their vision and partnership in this effort.”
Sarah Harper, 602-229-2542, 602-402-1341 | Sarah.K.Harper@azregents.edu