The Florida College Access Network (FCAN) hosted an urgent webinar on Wednesday, May 22 to discuss strategies for increasing FAFSA completion rates and college enrollment for Florida’s high school class of 2024. The webinar brought together experts from the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) and the U.S. Department of Education to share data insights, best practices, and funding opportunities to support Florida communities in this critical effort.

Key Takeaways:

1. FAFSA completion is a critical predictor of immediate college enrollment after high school. However, national FAFSA completion rates for the class of 2024 are significantly lower compared to previous years. This sharp decline foreshadows a potentially devastating impact on fall college enrollment, threatening to derail the educational aspirations of countless students nationwide.

2. Florida’s year-over-year FAFSA completion rate is down -22.5%, one of the lowest in the country. As of this writing in May 2024, only 28.1% of Florida students in the class of 2024 have completed the FAFSA.

3. Urgent action is being taken to address this looming crisis and ensure that the class of 2024 has equal access to the financial resources necessary to pursue their postsecondary dreams. This month, NCAN launched #DOTHEFAFSA, a digital media campaign targeting low-income students and students of color to increase awareness about the simplified FAFSA and the importance of completing the form to access financial aid for college.

4. Likewise the U.S. Department of Education launched a $50 million grant program, administered by ECMC, to support school districts, states, nonprofits, and community organizations in boosting FAFSA completion rates. Funding will be prioritized for organizations currently working on college access and those with deep ties to students and families. The funding is first come first served, and must be spent by September 1, 2024.

5. Effective strategies for increasing FAFSA completion among Pell-eligible students over the summer months require a multi-faceted approach that addresses key barriers and leverages community partnerships. This collection of colorful FAFSA flyers and FAFSA Checklist in English and Spanish from Federal Student Aid is designed to appeal to students and parents and can be customized to suit the needs of local communities.

Hosting FAFSA submission clinics staffed by knowledgeable volunteers and financial aid professionals can provide students and families with the personalized assistance they need to navigate the complexities of the FAFSA process. To ensure accessibility and participation, it is essential to provide transportation, child care, and incentives such as food, raffles, or scholarships to encourage attendance.

6. Collaborating with trusted community partners is another evidence-based strategy for boosting FAFSA completion rates. Partnering with community-based organizations, faith-based institutions, and postsecondary institutions can help expand outreach efforts, tap into existing networks, and lend credibility to the importance of FAFSA completion. These partnerships can also help to promote and enhance existing FAFSA completion events and resources, such as college access programs, financial aid workshops, and school-based initiatives.

7. Lastly, data-driven outreach is critical for targeting resources and interventions to the students and schools most in need of support. Utilizing tools like FCAN’s FAFSA Dashboard and NCAN’s FAFSA Tracker can help identify schools and districts with lower FAFSA completion rates, allowing for more strategic and efficient allocation of resources.

More data resources from Federal Student Aid can be downloaded here, and this video tutorial explains how to navigate the datasets. By leveraging these data tools, community organizations and education leaders can develop targeted outreach campaigns, personalized nudges, and timely interventions to support Pell-eligible students in completing the FAFSA.

Call to Action:

With most Florida high schools holding graduations and most school districts closing their doors this week, it is crucial for local communities and organizations to implement innovative outreach strategies to engage students and families throughout the summer months. Some ideas include:

  • Partnering with local public libraries, churches, and youth-serving organizations who offer summer programming for youth and young adults, like the YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs
  • Collaborating with post-secondary institutions on summer bridge programs and early outreach efforts 
  • Utilizing local movie theaters and media outlets to promote FAFSA completion messages
  • Hosting creative events like pop-up FAFSA completion nights with food, prizes, and community resources

FCAN and its network of local college access networks, representing 85% of Florida’s population, are committed to working together to close the FAFSA completion gap and ensure that every Florida student has the opportunity to access and afford a postsecondary education.

By leveraging the collective expertise, resources, and passion of Florida’s “FAFSA Army,” we can power up completion rates and maintain our state’s position as a national leader in higher education.

Show Notes:

For more information and to access the webinar recording, slides, and additional resources, visit the resources linked below: 

Other resources referenced during the webinar include: 

  • This two-page 2024-25 FAFSA Guide for Parents and Contributors contains pro tips and answers to frequently asked questions about the form, in addition to examples of social media posts for partners.
  • One of the most frequently asked questions and answers about Better FAFSA is, “How do I contribute to the 2024-25 FAFSA if I don’t have a Social Security number?” 
    • Answer: Parents, stepparents and spouses without a Social Security number will have to create a account and be invited to participate as a contributor to a student’s FAFSA form. Once you’ve added your personal information (skipping over the section for SSNs), manually enter your tax information before filling out the remaining contributor sections. More information can be found here; the last update as of this posting is May 6, 2024.
  • More helpful links about Better FAFSA can be found on its landing page
  • These excerpted slides, from a presentation given at the recent FCAN Summit, have terrific tips for schools seeking student-level FAFSA completion data. 

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