Indianapolis Public School (IPS) students with college aspirations are filling out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA, in record numbers as the calendar year winds to a close.
IPS staff are working with hundreds of students who are filling out the forms, helping them qualify for over $120 billion in federal grants, loans, and work-study funds provided annually to more than 13 million college students.
“A big piece of the puzzle is parent involvement and getting them to complete their portion of the documentation,” said Courtney Thomas, the district’s 3E Coordinator in the Postsecondary Readiness Department. “Students are much easier to engage, and they trust the adults within their schools who are explaining the importance of completing the FAFSA and are more engaged with the process.”
At this point, the district’s FAFSA completion rate is 22% with four more months until Indiana’s April 15 application deadline. Starting the conversation with students and families early will positively impact the district’s goal of 85% completion, and 100% student engagement.
“Our numbers compared to this time last year are much higher, by school and as a district,” Thomas said. “We are excited about this increase and believe it is because of our intentionality early in the school year with having our FAFSA kickoff in October.
“Last year, we did not get focused on FAFSA until around February and we had to work extra hard to get students engaged with the process,” she said. “We know there are some circumstances that will prohibit a student from completing their FAFSA, but we are working closely with those students to provide additional postsecondary resources to help guide their journey, especially if they are still wanting to attend an institution of higher education.”
Educating Students and Families
Thomas said the district is working to educate students and parents about the process, and the holiday break should create opportunities to fill out the forms.
“We are utilizing all engagement platforms to ensure parents are aware of the FAFSA, including ConnectEd calls/texts, Dr. (Aleesia) Johnson’s weekly message, the IPS website, school newsletters, and personal communication from Future Center associates and school counselors,” said Thomas, who noted that students are staying informed about the FAFSA, steps to complete their application, and support and resources through their Future Center associates and school counselors.
Thomas said Future Center associates are working closely with community partners such as, INvestEd and Indy Achieves, to support student FAFSA completion.
“There have been “FAFSA Fridays” at a few of the high schools, as well as some evening and weekend events for students and parents to receive additional support, she said. “What that looks like is Future Center associates calling small groups of students down during a study hall, lunch time, etc. to begin their FAFSA — in addition to connecting directly with those parents to start their end of the process.”
According to the National College Access Network (NCAN), about 90% of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA proceed directly to college, compared to only 55% who don’t submit the application. The FAFSA completion rate for high school graduates was just 44% in 2014.
By not filling out the FAFSA, American college students are missing out on a seriously good deal. Federal grants do not need to be repaid, federal student loans have low interest rates, and work-study programs can be a convenient way to simultaneously fund an education and build a resume.
‘Claim What’s Yours”
Thomas said the motto for the Postsecondary Readiness Department is “Claim What’s Yours.”
“There is money out there for our students, free money — Pell Grants, state aid, institutional aid, scholarships — and in order to claim it students must complete the FAFSA,” Thomas said. “Each year, as a nation, students are leaving more than $2 billion on the table in free college aid.”
She urges all students — even those who don’t think they are going to college — to complete the FAFSA because situations change.
“They may end up in a job that encourages them to continue their education for a certification, and that could mean enrolling at Ivy Tech for a semester. With an already completed FAFSA that student will have financial aid ready and available,” Thomas said. “We want students and parents to understand that taking 30 minutes of their time to complete the FAFSA will provide them with options for what their postsecondary plans can be. Not completing the FAFSA closes doors.”
HERE is more information about completing the FAFSA, including where students and families can go for help in completing the forms.