The Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) has a laser focus on increasing our four-year cohort graduation rate for our high school students, and their college and career readiness and access. A critical measure that serves as one predictor for college access is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. That is why this year as a statewide public education system we have set a goal to have 70 percent of our seniors complete the FAFSA, and 90 percent in 2020. We ALL play a role in meeting this goal!
Each year the federal government offers more than $150 billion in federal student aid to help students pay for college. This includes free grant money that does not need to be repaid, along with other institutional aid, scholarships and loans.
Here’s an often missed fact: Even if your child does not quality for need-based aid (meaning your family has a take home salary that does not reflect need), many private scholarships still require you to have completed a FAFSA application as part of their screening for competitive scholarships. As an example of what’s available, for the 2018-19 school year, students can receive up to $6,095 in Pell Grant funding.
Too many of our students are not taking advantage of this valuable resource. Our FAFSA completion rate for 2018 was 60 percent (a 3-point increase over the year before). While this is aligned to the national norm for FAFSA completion, it does not meet our expectations in Hawaii for readiness. Keep in mind: many students who state that they are not going to college decide in the late spring of their senior year that they want to start college classes. This is why we want to ensure that every high school senior completes a FAFSA application.
Some students believe their family makes too much money. Others may be unaware of the opportunities. This resulted in more than $11 million in federal student aid left unclaimed in a recent year here in Hawaii, money that could have helped more of our students pay for college.
HIDOE is partnering with Hawaii P-20 and the University of Hawaii to promote the Cash for College Challenge to help boost our FAFSA completion rates. Our strategies include FAFSA workshops, outreach to parents, media campaigns, designing data tools, and training for counselors and teachers. FAFSA campaigns also require a community-wide commitment. Business leaders can share FAFSA information with their employees who have high school age students; community organizations and churches can serve as hubs for FAFSA completion support.
Data show FAFSA completion rates translate to increased college enrollment: 90 percent of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA attend college directly from high school. That compares with a 55 percent enrollment rate for students who don’t complete the FAFSA.
Data also show many of our students qualify for assistance. Among the HIDOE Class of 2017, 9 out of 10 students who enrolled at a UH campus and completed the FAFSA qualified for federal aid.
I want to see more of our students benefiting from this program and from competitive private and family foundation scholarships. Some of our high schools are well on their way to meeting and exceeding our targets:
- Molokai High — 79 percent
- Roosevelt High — 77 percent
- Kalani High — 75 percent
- McKinley High — 75 percent
- Waiakea High — 74 percent
The FAFSA application period for students who will be attending college next year opens on Oct. 1. Let’s help more of our students tap into this resource as we continue to prepare our students for college, careers and community life. Make Oct. 1 FAFSA Day at your office, your school, or your classroom.