How do FAFSA completion rates compare in St. Cloud, MN and around the country?
The National College Attainment Network (NCAN), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization working to close equity gaps in post-secondary education, found that the completion rate of the free application for aid federal student body (FAFSA) among high school students is up 4.2% year over year nationally. However, in Minnesota, it only increased by 1.9%. The state’s completion rate is 41.5% and in the St. Cloud School District it is 34%.
FAFSA is a form completed by students or individuals about to attend college in the United States to determine their eligibility for government student financial assistance in the form of loans and grants.
Minnesota’s ranking among other states for FAFSA completion is 41st according to Bill Debaun, Senior Director of Data and Strategic Initiatives at NCAN. Although it has improved over the years, many factors keep Minnesota ranked lower for FAFSA completion.
NCAN tracks FAFSA completions annually to track states’ progress in high school student completion of the FAFSA. In Minnesota, only 32,721 high school students completed the FAFSA application this year. FAFSA completions predicted whether a high school student will go on to college, and according to NCAN, this trend in Minnesota presents a troubling picture for college enrollment.
Many of the reasons Minnesota’s rate is lower remain speculative. A common factor faced by schools with lower FAFSA completion rates is that they are “high minority schools,” according to NCAN. A school can be considered high minority if its racial demographics are at least 40% Black and/or Latinx. For public schools in Saint Cloud, it’s just over 50%.
Other factors include the state of the economy. DeBaun said many open positions in the job market that don’t require a college education are paying more in recent years, prompting high school graduates to enter the job market sooner.
“It’s hard to say to what extent what we’re seeing now is a response to the economy we find ourselves in versus a more permanent loss of interest in post-secondary pathways,” DeBaun said. “If the economy were to cool down or slow down, I think you would quickly see students coming back to re-enroll.”
Minnesota is one state that is considering universal FAFSA completion policies, making financial aid form completion a prerequisite for graduation. SF-2735 was introduced earlier this year with this lens in the state senate. At present, it is still under review by the Education Finance and Policy Committee.
DeBaun highlighted the methods put into practice to achieve high FAFSA completion rates, such as the Tennessee Promise, which is a state government program that provides students with a scholarship that almost all students in the state are eligible if they complete and submit their FAFSA application.
“It’s not too late to complete a FAFSA for students who haven’t done so yet.” said DeBaun. “The moment we find ourselves in does not change the fact that our country still needs a more educated workforce than it currently has.”