The barriers to FAFSA completion

This item appeared in Beyond High School, a Chalkbeat newsletter by Jason Gonzales about college-going in Colorado. Sign up for your own copy here.


Welcome back to our monthly Beyond High School newsletter.

Since last year, I’ve tried to dissect the question — why does Colorado lag so far behind other states in getting high school students to complete the federal student aid application?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is an important measure because it tells us a lot about whether students will go to college. It helps pave the way for students financially by opening up the possibility of grants and loans. Some schools and foundations even require it to award scholarships.

Colorado ranks 47th in the nation in the percent of high school students who complete the FAFSA. This year, Colorado’s FAFSA completion numbers dropped again because of the pandemic. The most pronounced downturns occurred in cities and among low-income communities and students of color.

In this graphic, the yellow represents cities where FAFSA completion decreased. The blue shows where completion increased.

Pandemic aside, students and counselors have told me completing the FAFSA can be a daunting task with numerous barriers to completion.

Last year, I talked with Metropolitan State University of Denver student Dimree Asevedo who didn’t fill out the FAFSA until her college approached her. She went to school off and on, paying for college when she could afford it. She didn’t have access to her parents’ financial information, which made filling out the FAFSA difficult until she got older.

But there are other reasons that students don’t fill out the FAFSA.

Federico Rangel, a Denver Scholarship Foundation college adviser, said getting students to complete the FAFSA is a full-time job in itself. Not every school has an adviser such as Rangel, and Colorado does just one big push compared to other states that hold ongoing FAFSA drives.

Advisers like Rangel also have to factor in contacting students who don’t know the importance of FAFSA or who aren’t sure they want to go to college. That’s been harder during the pandemic.

Rangel also has to convince students who must work after they graduate to fill out the form anyway. Rangel said every student should keep their options open.

The Denver Scholarship Foundation also constantly pushes out the message about FAFSA. Not every school or organization has the resources. Counselors across the state have said FAFSA can take a backseat when they’re wrangling so many other issues.

As I start to think about the next year of reporting, I want to ask you all for solutions. What can Colorado do better as a state? How can we move out of the bottom tier?

Before I end this newsletter, I have another request. We at Chalkbeat Colorado need your help.

We want to hear about other college issues you’ve seen or experienced. As the pandemic reveals or exacerbates issues, what needs to be brought to light? And we want to know: What stories are we missing?

Please take a few minutes to fill out this brief survey.

If you find this newsletter interesting, please forward to a friend. Here’s the sign-up link. And get in touch. Reach me on Twitter at @ByJasonGonzales or via email at jgonzales@chalkbeat.org.

Jason Gonzales covers higher education for Chalkbeat Colorado, in partnership with Open Campus.

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