Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine financial aid eligibility for colleges and vocational schools can be a challenge for high school seniors and their parents.
To make it easier, high schools, community organizations and postsecondary schools around the state offer College Goal FAF$A workshops that have helped more than 55,000 students and their families complete the critically important application in the past 10 years, thanks to help from the Arizona Commission on Postsecondary Education.
Click here to find a workshop near you and get assistance filing the FAFSA.
How the workshops help
These workshops help all students, but especially first-generation college students, underserved students, their peers and their families apply for college financial aid with the FAFSA.
“These FAFSA completion workshops provide an opportunity for students and parents to ask questions in a safe, supportive environment and get help to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA),” said Deena Lager, director of Arizona student financial aid and the Arizona Family College Savings 529 program for the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education.
The FAFSA is used to determine a student’s eligibility for federal, state, and college or university financial aid as well as some private scholarships, Lager said.
“It’s important for students and parents to know as early as possible how much financial aid is available to help them pay for their postsecondary education goals,” Lager said. “For some students, investing 30 minutes of time completing a FAFSA could yield up to $6,095 in free federal grant aid.”
This year, more schools took part in both Arizona College Application Campaign and College Goal FAF$A workshops, Dr. April Osborn, executive director of the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education. The College Goal FAF$A campaign runs from October through February.
To improve student participation, instead of hosting one statewide event as was done in 2016, now high schools, community organizations and postsecondary institutions have been encouraged to host FAFSA completion workshops on dates and times that best serve the students and family members in their communities, Lager said.
A partnership with Univision Arizona and Helios in the 2017-18 school year led to bilingual community FAFSA completion workshops in the Fall and Spring.
“For 2018-19, the number of high schools signed up to host at least one FAFSA completion workshop has grown to 93, of which 69 are Title I (74%),” Lager said. “The Univision Arizona events are still well attended and are now held at a local community college campus each semester.”
As more high schools host workshops, the number of community workshops has declined from 12 last year to six so far this year.
How it helps in planning for college
Students and parents who attend the workshops are always grateful for the help, patience and assistance, Lager said.
“For many students, their parents are not familiar with the process or there is a language barrier and having a helpful guide makes it a less daunting experience,” Lager said.
When a student and parent complete the FAFSA during the workshop, they leave their estimated federal financial aid amounts and an estimated expected family contribution amount.
Colleges, vocational schools and universities the students applied to receive that information and use it to determine what additional state and/or institutional financial aid the student might be eligible to receive at each institution.
“Parents are often relieved to have a better understanding how much financial aid their student qualifies for when looking at the cost of various colleges,” Lager said.
What the FAFSA Challenge is
In partnership with the Governor’s Office of Education and Achieve 60AZ, the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education launched a statewide FAFSA completion dashboard and website this fall at FAFSAChallenge.az.gov as a way to increase FAFSA completions among Arizona high school seniors while promoting friendly competition, Lager said.
All students who participate in either a College Application Campaign or College Goal FAF$A event have an opportunity to be entered into a drawing for a $1,000 scholarship when they complete a student exit report online, sharing their perceptions and experience during the event, Lager said.
“Thanks to the Governor’s support of the new Arizona FAFSA Challenge, Arizona is perfectly poised to raise the energy and commitment around this year’s FAFSA completion initiative,” Osborn said.
The goal of the challenge is to increase the FAFSA completion rate to at least 50 percent for this school year and gradually increase that to 78% by the year 2030, Lager said. Last year, Arizona high school seniors had a 43 percent FAFSA completion rate, well below the 60.9 percent national average, Lager said.
The program awards schools with the highest FAFSA completion rate and most improved FAFSA completion rate from Oct. 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019 with a trophy along with a laptop to award to one of their seniors who has completed the FAFSA . Monthly awards that include a certificate from the Governor’s Office along with a $100 gift card from the Commission.
To be eligible for the awards, the high school must participate in the Commission’s FAF$A Finish Line data sharing program which gives each school access to student-level FAFSA completion status data for their seniors, which lets them assist students who have not completed a FAFSA or have started the process and need help, Lager said.
Some schools have partnered with their local college access organizations such as Be A Leader or Northern Arizona College Resource Center to provide information and FAFSA completion sessions.
Also, potential College and Career Readiness Index points provided in the Arizona Schools A-F Accountability program for FAFSA completion should also motivate schools to focus on FAFSA completion this year, Osborn said.
This school year, 191 FAF$A Finish Line participants – 155 high schools, 30 districts, and 6 community partners – have signed data sharing agreements with the Commission, Lager said.
“We have 155 individual high schools that have signed on to receive FAF$A Finish Line reports so that they can follow up with students who face hindrances after filing,” Osborn said. “I can’t wait to see where these schools and their students will be one year from now.”