NEW BRITAIN – Building their efforts on increasing postsecondary school enrollment, New Britain High School is jumping on the FAFSA Completion Challenge, a statewide program to improve financial aid completion rates.
The statewide FAFSA Challenge, a partnership between the state Department of Education (CSDE) and the Connecticut College and Career Readiness Alliance, aims to strengthen postsecondary access and enrollment by raising FAFSA completion rates among high school seniors, according to CSDE. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form to apply for financial aid for college or graduate school.
New Britain Schools received a mini grant of $8,000 through the program as an incentive to help encourage more students to sign up for financial aid.
“A lot of students may think the process is too complicated or they are not eligible. Some aren’t even aware that the aid exists, so we are here to help them become familiar with the process and let both students and parents know that there is a lot of money out there that could help them,” said Stan Glowiak, guidance director at New Britain High School.
Out of roughly 420 seniors, about 140 students have completed the application so far and Glowiak hopes to reach at least half of the senior population.
“It would be nice to double that number. Once students see that they have money coming in to help them, it could serve as a motivation to continue with their postsecondary education, whether it’s college or trade school,” he said. “A lot of times students just don’t know that they are eligible, so we want to make sure that they don’t miss out on such an opportunity.”
According to CSDE, FAFSA completion is strongly associated with postsecondary enrollment and outcomes given that 90% of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA attend college directly from high school, compared to just 55% of FAFSA non-completers.
Through the mini grant, Glowiak said the incentive strategies include paying for the students’ cap and gown, yearbooks, senior gear, or gift baskets to entice students to finish the application process.
“If we’re able to become one of the top schools for FAFSA completion, then we could receive more grant money to continue to support the students,” he said.
The school is also implementing a variety of ways to connect with students, including social media announcements, texts and calls. With the students being in the hybrid model, Glowiak said it’s a lot more challenging trying to connect with students about financial aid.
“Our process is slower compared to last year, but we are making sure they know that they can work with our career center with the applications,” he said. “We have many experts there and students can come and get the help that they need.”
Thousands of students across the state who are eligible for college aid fail to file the FAFSA each year and in doing so, leave millions of unclaimed dollars that could support their postsecondary education, according to CSDE. A recent analysis showed that approximately 12,000 Connecticut seniors in the graduating Class of 2018 failed to complete the form and slightly less than half of those FAFSA non-completers would have been eligible for Pell Grants totaling $17 million. The pandemic has exacerbated the obstacles many students and families face when completing the FAFSA with form completions down 16% compared to this time last year.
With the FAFSA Challenge support, Glowiak hopes it will help give the nudge that students need.
“I’m encouraging students to do this sooner than later,” he said. “It could be intimidating at first, especially for first generation students. But we’re here to help. We know a lot of our students are qualified, and we have a lot of students who are talented and capable. They just need that support and we’re here to give it to them.”