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College Possible hosts FAFSA Nights amid a troublesome new FAFSA rollout

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education updated the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The goal of the update was to streamline the FAFSA and make it easier for students to apply for financial aid for their postsecondary education. The rollout and implementation of the updated FAFSA was delayed by three months and continues to be riddled with technical errors. These setbacks have been difficult for students, but especially difficult for families and students served by College Possible.

Completing the FAFSA determines a student’s financial aid package, scholarship and work study eligibility, and Pell Grant (financial aid that does not need to be repaid) awards. National College Attainment Network (NCAN) survey results published in 2019 found that 92 percent of high school seniors who completed the FAFSA enrolled in college by the November following graduation, versus 51 percent who didn’t complete a FAFSA. The students we support rely on financial aid packages to attend college and they make informed enrollment decisions based on the packages they receive. FAFSA setbacks that have pushed back the timeline for financial aid awards will negatively impact enrollment.

Senior program managers Megan Jung and Lindsay, supported by the larger programs teams, spearheaded a new series of events designed to support student efforts to complete their FAFSA forms. “We wanted to host FAFSA Nights to provide support to students and their families while navigating the new application,” said Lindsay. “There have been a lot of changes and delays with the FAFSA this year, and we know how difficult it can be to fill out the application normally, let alone with the changes. As we learned about the changes and potential challenges, we started planning for this event. It was important for us to have an event that supported both high school and college students. Typically, our events are separate, but knowing that most high school seniors and college students fill out the FAFSA, this was a great opportunity to combine our program teams for this event. It also provides more support to families that have multiple students in the College Possible program, allowing us to help everyone at once.”

FAFSA Nights took place in the College Possible Minnesota offices on February 6 and February 9. For the two events, staff and coaches provided both in-person and virtual support – between the two nights, 46 students attended. Many of them were able to bring their family members to start not only the student process but also the parent/guardian section. Of those who attended:

  • Student FSA ID completed – 38
  • Parent/guardian FSA ID completed – 18
  • Parent/guardian FSA ID in progress – 17
  • Student section of FAFSA completed – 34
  • Parent/guardian section of FAFSA completed – 10

On average, each coach supporting FAFSA Nights worked with two students. Coaches were grouped in pairs to support; ideally one would be supporting the student and the other would work with the family members. At the end of the week, 10 students had fully completed both their portion and their parent/guardian sections of the FAFSA.

This is the first time College Possible has held an event like this, an exciting opportunity to see the interest and dedication of the students – over 100 high school and college students RSVP’d. It demonstrates how important having support like this is for the students we serve and their families. In the high school program, group sessions and office hours (virtual and in-person) are available to support FAFSA completion, however, this is the first event that brings both high school and college programs together.

Based on the response and comments from students, it was clear to see the need for continued support around FAFSA, even for students who have previously filled out the application before. “Filling out the FAFSA was a big reason why I wasn’t going to enroll next year,” shared a college student. “I’m glad this event is happening.”

As of the beginning of February, NCAN reports that only 20% of the high school class of 2024 have submitted a FAFSA, down 57% compared to last year’s seniors, nationally. The students we serve will need more support in completing the FAFSA as college decision deadlines loom closer. High school and college coaches will need to spend more one-on-one time with students to ensure that their application is complete and accurate. Our Programs team will need to stay informed about FAFSA updates and communicate these changes to our coaches. To ensure that College Possible is “making college admission and success possible,” we need the continued support of this community. Make your gift today!

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