(cross-posted from the blog of the National College Access Network)

The Department of Education has a new FAFSA completion initiative to give more Americans the opportunity to afford, attend, and graduate from college. Through this initiative, state education agencies will be able to share information with school districts so districts can identify students who have not completed the FAFSA, beginning in the 2014-15 school year. Sharing this information with school districts is a powerful tool because it will allow counselors and advisors to target their FAFSA outreach initiatives to those students whom they know have not yet completed the FAFSA.

Aggregating this data is also helpful at the community level. The Florida College Access Network’s FAFSA Finish Line is one such example. It features easy-to-view charts of public high schools with the highest FAFSA completion rate, as well as schools demonstrating the greatest biweekly improvement. Users of the tool can view data on over 700 public schools in Florida, as well as use custom filters to create comparison groups or see how schools in your community are performing. School indicators such as number of 12th graders, high school graduation rate, free- and reduced-price lunch rate and school grade can each be used separately or in combination with others to help school administrators, community leaders and other education stakeholders know where their local schools stand.

President Barack Obama recently highlighted the importance of the FAFSA during a March 7 appearance at Coral Reef Senior High School in Miami, which had the second-highest rate of FAFSA completers of large Florida high schools last year. President Obama’s visit appears to have inspired “Cuda Nation,” as seniors at Coral Reef completed an impressive 73 FAFSAs during the first two weeks of March 2014, more than any other single school in the entire state during that span.

This federal initiative resolves questions about whether FERPA prevents this exchange of data and builds on the success of a pilot project the U.S. Department of Education (ED) began in 2010 with about 100 school districts. The origination of this data sharing partnership was at NCAN member Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Greg Darnieder, Special Assistant on College Access to the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Illinois Student Assistance Commission presented to NCAN members on April 3, 2014, on the next steps of this initiative and how Illinois has already put student specific FAFSA completion data to use to increase their completion rate almost 20%. NCAN Members can access those materials here

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