Let’s state the obvious: 1) Financial aid plays a huge factor in students’ college-going decisions and success (especially low-income students); and 2) Completing the FAFSA is essential for students to access almost all forms of financial aid. So, for a large urban district like DC Public Schools, where 77 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced price lunch, getting graduating seniors to complete their FAFSAs on time isn’t an optional task- it’s a necessary one.
In the fall of 2014, DCPS began a data-driven FAFSA Completion Initiative developed in partnership with our State Education Agency (SEA) and the US Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Programs Division (FSA). DCPS saw a 3 percentage point increase from year one to year two of effort, and are aiming for an additional 3 percentage point increase this year. Here’s how we made it happen:
- Access FSA’s FAFSA Completion Portal: In 2014, FSA granted SEAs access to student-level FAFSA completion data. Prior to this, we could only measure FAFSA completion by school, which wasn’t granular enough to act on in a meaningful way. DCPS collaborated with our SEA to allow us and school leaders access to the FAFSA portal data, which lets us see exactly which students had completed the FAFSA, and who had submitted the FAFSA with errors (and which ones).
- Make the Data Actionable & Accessible: At DCPS, we often say, “What gets measured, gets done.” Every two weeks, we format the FAFSA portal data into an easy-to-read summary table that we email to all school leaders, staff, and college access providers responsible for FAFSA completion. Here’s a sample, simplified version: