What are states around the country doing to boost FAFSA completion rates? Florida College Access Network’s Associate Director for Research & Policy Troy Miller accompanied a group of state leaders who visited White House this week to learn what others around the country are doing to help more students complete the all-important federal financial aid application.

Why is the FAFSA so important for 12th graders? National data shows 90% of students who complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) will enroll in postsecondary education. This has inspired a number of recent initiatives from the White House and U.S. Department of Education, including making the FAFSA easier to complete and helping school counselors provide timely assistance to their students.

The predominant theme of the day-long event was the importance of data, specifically the sharing of student-level FAFSA completion data with schools and districts. This approach has proven to be effective for states such as Colorado, Illinois, Utah, Washington, Iowa and others who, by implementing this strategy, are able to provide school counselors with a simple “yes” or “no” with regards to which students have completed the FAFSA or not. With this information, schools and districts place themselves in the position to be able to deliver support and programs to help their students complete the financial aid form.

A handful of Florida districts will begin implementing student-level FAFSA completion data in 2016, including Broward, Hillsborough, Palm Beach and Duval. To learn about how other Florida school districts can gain access to this data, contact the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Student Financial Assistance, who administers the provision of such data to school districts.

Also highlighted during the event was Better Make Room, a new campaign announced by The First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative launched earlier this week which seeks to inspire 14-19 year olds (“Generation Z”) to take charge of their future by completing some education beyond high school. The First Lady announced the campaign on Wednesday with LeBron James in Akron, Ohio, which includes a new website, YouTube video and a new service called UpNext, which sends personalized text messages to users to apply to college, get money for college and pay back their student loans.

Those in attendance also learned more about President Obama’s executive order announced in September allowing students to complete the FAFSA three months earlier starting in the fall of 2016. By moving the application’s start date from January 1 to October 1, the application now better accommodates the college admissions calendar and tax season, which will allow students more time and relieve the stress associated with completing the FAFSA before many colleges make admissions decisions. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Student Financial Aid will be releasing a number of promotional materials in spring 2016 to help schools and colleges adjust to the earlier FAFSA completion timeline.

Accompanying Florida CAN at the White House event was Mary Chance, President of the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations, Dr. Juhon Mixon, Executive Director of the Florida Association for School Administrators and Dr. Rebecca Schumacher, Assistant Professor at the University of North Florida and Florida School Counselor Association’s Assistant Governing Board Chair.

To learn more about Florida College Access Network’s efforts to increase FAFSA completion in Florida, read our policy brief on how Florida’s high school graduates leave behind over $100 million in Pell Grants annually and view the Florida FAFSA Finish Line, our interactive database which allows users to view FAFSA completion data for over 500 public schools and districts in Florida.

Photo courtesy of Greg Darnieder

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