There’s good news and bad news when it comes to FAFSA completion rates for current seniors in the Cleveland Metropolitan District.
Submitting the annual form helps students and their families get state and federal funding to help pay for higher education. It looks at their financial situations, including tax information. Some aid is given on a “first-come, first serve” basis, so completing it sooner rather than later is better.
The good: About 35% of the class of 2023 have completed a FAFSA since the process opened Oct. 1, according to data collected in mid-February and provided by the district. That marks a return to the average levels seen at this time of year in the pre-pandemic times of 2018 – 2020. During the same time in the 2021-22 academic year, for example, the rate was close to 30%.
The not-so-good: It still lags Ohio’s roughly 46% current year-to-date overall completion and the country’s approximate rate of 39%. Plus, those state findings show higher rates at some neighboring districts. Nearly 40% of Cleveland Heights-University Heights students, 41% of Garfield Heights students, and 43% of Lakewood students have submitted their applications.
The issue: “This is a complicated issue, because it involves not only children’s goals educationally, but also students’ and families’ income,” said Anthony Battaglia, CMSD’s executive director of career and college pathways. “And so as we continue to unpack that, the more we can listen to the community about why they’re not completing [the FAFSA], the better off we can get.”
Battaglia said the Cleveland district stresses that completing the form is a good step no matter what a student’s post-high school career might look like. Filling it out gives options. Educators also emphasize that parents aren’t financially responsible for funding their child’s education just by submitting it.
The form’s a big deal for students across the country. It’s an especially big deal in Cleveland, though, as completing the FAFSA is one of the required steps to get a “Say Yes” scholarship. That’s the program offering the district’s students money to pay for higher education tuition and fees.
What comes next: In fact, Battaglia said one of the upcoming steps is to individually reach out to current seniors who have started or completed a Say Yes scholarship application but haven’t filled out their FAFSA.
The district’s “historically a late-filing community,” Battaglia added, so completion rates are still expected to rise.
Amy Morona covers higher education for Signal Cleveland, in partnership with Open Campus.