Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education released data showing that fewer high school seniors nationwide are completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) than last year. During April 2015 to April 2016, FAFSA completion fell 3.2% nationwide. Experts suspect the decline is due to the lack of students not fixing mistakes on their application after submitting the form. Others suspect part of the decline is due to recent changes the federal government made to the application process, specifically the FSA ID, which replaced the PIN, and has been reported to be more time consuming.
Historically, Utah has been last in the nation for FAFSA completion.
Utah continues to be last in the nation for percent of eligible student FAFSA completion. In 2014-15, 70% of eligible Utah high school graduates did not complete a FAFSA, the highest among all states.
But, Utah’s FAFSA completion numbers are up this year.
This year, Utah’s FAFSA completions increased 5.5%. This number could have increased due to Utah joining the FAFSA Collective Impact Initiative last year, which enables the tracking of individual student’s FAFSA completion in Utah school districts. And for the first time this year, the Utah System of Higher Education was able to send out thousands of e-mails to Utahns who filed a FAFSA last year, reminding them to renew their FAFSA if they are still in college.
Another potential reason for higher FAFSA completion rates is the return of young Utahns serving LDS missions who were affected by the mission age change in October 2012. These Utahns are returning from their missions and are now attending or returning to college–and are completing a FAFSA. This aligns with the increased enrollment numbers at USHE institutions; for fall semester 2015-2016, USHE institutions saw a 2.06% net increase in student enrollment over 2014. The percent increase in full-time equivalent (FTE) students was slightly larger, at 2.79%, which indicates more students are attending full-time and are potentially completing a FAFSA.
Also, USHE institutions are working to improve FAFSA completion rates by requiring FAFSA completion as part of their scholarship application for specific programs. For example, SLCC Promise and Dream Weber are both programs that require a complete FAFSA as part of the application process. These programs benefit those who have financial need and could benefit the most from completing the FAFSA.
Utah is continuing to promote FAFSA completion via annual FAFSA Completion Open House Events throughout the state. This year, the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA) outreach team, operating under the StepUp to Higher Education Initiative, strengthened their outreach efforts by collaborating more closely with school counselors, teachers, early awareness programs such as GEAR UP, and Utah colleges and universities to increase FAFSA awareness and completion throughout the state. This spring, UHEAA hosted 73+ FAFSA Completion Open House Events at high schools statewide with the help of school counselors, teachers, early awareness programs, and Utah colleges and universities. UHEAA outreach plans to host 90+ additional events this fall through March 2017, due to the new FAFSA changes that go into effect October 1.