For the past three months, we have supported and celebrated the Class of 2023 as they submitted their college applications. And, while submitting a college application is a necessary and important step on the path to college, not all students will ultimately enroll.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center High School Benchmarks Reports, college enrollment rates for high school seniors from the Class of 2021 declined. The data also shows a larger enrollment decline for high schools serving larger populations of students from low-income families, students of color, and students who would be the first in their family to go to college than graduates from higher-income schools. This report demonstrates the ongoing effects of the pandemic on recent high school graduates.
Students need to hear from trusted adults about the importance of planning for their lives after high school. Some people know exactly what they want to be or do, others aren't sure, and that's OK. I urge you to start conversations during the holiday break with the high schoolers in your life about their college plans and how you can support their journeys.
Last month, Common App, Reach Higher, and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling joined us in declaring November as National College Application Month. Additionally, on Nov. 17, Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) cosponsored a resolution in the Senate, which can be viewed here. Please join us in thanking these leaders and the Senate for their resolution and leadership.
Together, we can change the narrative for students facing complex challenges. ACAC has resources to remind seniors about the importance of completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form and helping make sense of financial aid award letters.
School counselors can download ACT’s Counselor Toolkit for resources that help communicate what students need to do as they wrap up the semester.
Thank you for your continued service to support students through the college-going process.
Lisa King, director
NCAN’s FAFSA Tracker Turns Six, Shows Early Gains for Class of 2023
By: Bill DeBaun, senior director of Strategic Initiatives, National College Attainment Network
October 1 has come and gone, and the 2023-24 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) cycle is now in full swing. High school class of 2023 seniors are already completing the FAFSA. These seniors are building off of the class of 2022’s positive momentum and will hopefully push our nation’s FAFSA completion rates back to pre-pandemic levels (or higher).
The National College Attainment Network's (NCAN) FAFSA Tracker, which is updated weekly with information about completions at the national, state, city, district, and school levels, returns for the sixth straight year as a valuable resource for practitioners, policymakers, and the public.
Although NCAN’s attention is now on the 2023-24 FAFSA cycle, it’s worth recapping recent developments from the last cycle. In the three months that followed, the year-over-year change remained the same, but an additional 5.5% of the class of 2022 completed a FAFSA, which raised the national rate to an estimated 57.7%. Of all of the FAFSA completions through September 30, about 50% occurred before New Year’s Day; just 11% came after July 1.
High schools where more than half of students are eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch, and high schools where greater than 40% of students are Black or Hispanic, showed continued strong year-over-year growth at 8.3% and 8.2% respectively. Public high schools in cities saw FAFSA completions climb 6.6% while their suburban, small town, and rural counterparts hovered around 3.5% increases.
The class of 2022’s strong performance was a welcomed sight after the classes of 2020 and 2021 finished down 3.7% and 4.8% respectively year-over-year, clearly due in large part to the global pandemic which seems to have affected the class of 2022 slightly less. Despite these gains, the class of 2022 finished at about 1.5 percentage points behind the pre-pandemic class of 2019, so there is still some catching up to do.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, Louisiana and Tennessee ranked first and second place by percent of their senior class completion. This is the fifth year these two have occupied those spots and are the only two states to breach the 70% threshold. Mississippi put in a typically strong performance and finished third at 69.1%, due in large part to the tireless statewide work from NCAN member the Woodward Hines Education Foundation and their Get2College programming.
Similarly unsurprising given where they were as of July 1, Texas (+20.3%) and Alabama (+17.3%) finished tops in year-over-year percent change. These figures are both slight declines from their July 1 heights of about +26% and +25% respectively, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many FAFSA completions back for the class of 2021, so the Texas and Alabama figures are likely more a function of that than anything else. New Mexico (+8%), California (+7.8%), and Maine (+7.2%) rounded out the top five in year-over-year change.
Texas and Alabama were in the spotlight most of the last cycle because of their first-time implementation of a universal FAFSA policy that made FAFSA completion a requirement for high school graduation. California’s requirement goes into effect this year, and it will be interesting to see how much the policy improves on the state’s already slightly above-average 58% completion rate. NCAN recently dug into the effects of FAFSA completion from universal FAFSA policy implementations in four states.
Turning back toward the 2023-24 cycle, Federal Student Aid has released data on completions through November 4, 2022, and the initial news is encouraging. This next caveat is in bold because it’s very important to remember: it’s still only the first month of the cycle. But through that first week, FAFSA completions nationally are up about 8%, which will encourage financial aid advocates nationwide.
As for the Tracker itself, the functionality remains largely the same as last year at launch. That said, the NCAN team is tinkering in the lab by adding some additional dashboards and views that will allow users to consider FAFSA completions by Congressional district, explore changes in enrollment trends, and examine cumulative completions by date in previous cycles.
Inevitably, there will be a few kinks with the Tracker. If you notice something amiss, I’d appreciate it if you dropped me a line at [email protected]. The same goes for any questions, comments, or concerns related to the data or dashboards.
NCAN is excited to make the FAFSA Tracker available to the field again this year, and we are even more excited about the prospect of building on last year’s momentum. Be sure to monitor the NCAN blog for periodic updates about how the cycle is going.
Want more FAFSA completion resources? Check out NCAN’s FAFSA Resource Library and our myriad financial aid-related eLearning courses.
My College-going Journey as a Transfer Student
By: Isabelle Keever, communications intern
This blog post was first published on ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning blog on November 1, 2022.
Throughout all four years of high school, I planned to decide on a college and major that I would stick with, which was the mindset of most of my peers. Looking back now, I think about how inaccurate that might be for many students. I had some interests from high school going into college, but not enough to
make the decision best for me. Once I started my college courses, I found out more about what I liked and did not like. The same is true for the environment. After two years of struggling to find my place, I decided it would be best to transfer somewhere better suited to my needs.
Read the full blog post here.
Isabelle Keever is a junior at The University of Texas at Austin, pursuing a degree in advertising. Before transferring, she attended Texas A&M University, where she took specialized communication courses. Isabelle grew up in Tomball, Texas and now lives in Austin.
Unfinished College Applications: The Importance of Planning
By: Bryan Contreras, vice president of education partnership, myOptions® Encourage
There is a sprint every fall semester. It’s not at the cross-country meet beneath a beautiful canopy of fall foliage, nor is it an athletic sprint on one of the many playing fields as fall winds turn to a cold winter blue. It’s the college application sprint to meet early decisions and priority deadlines.
College counselors and students feel the stress and can agonize over each piece of the application. Meeting early deadlines with a fully completed application is a heavy lift that requires a careful plan and intentional communication.
It takes time. A lot of it. Much care and attention are dedicated to college applications submitted early but are those the bulk of college applications? For students who are not submitting early decisions and early action, are their college applications getting completed?
It might be time to look at the incomplete college application data for students at your schools.
Last month Higher Ed Dive published, "Federal data change means colleges can't count unfinished applications in admit rates" which made me think about all the incomplete college applications. The article discusses how colleges can no longer count an incomplete application as an application when reporting institutional data for the purposes of admission rates.
It goes on to explain the importance that this new rule indirectly plays in college marketing materials, selectivity ranking, and students’ perceptions of a college based on this data. This is good information for the college counseling community, but not what made me lean in.
For me this article sparks other questions about all those unfinished college applications.
- Do we track and monitor our student’s college application status beyond just starting it?
- What is the cadence on how we monitor college application status?
- What barriers do students face in completing college applications?
- Do schools have a data dashboard to visualize students that have incomplete applications?
This is the right time of year for college counseling teams and college access organizations to take a data walk across the status of all their students’ college applications. By now students have started one or several applications. But some students may only fully complete one to three applications and leave the balance unfinished.
Some of the reasons students may not complete the applications vary and may include the challenges of affording college application fees, writing admissions essays, securing teacher recommendation letters, submitting test scores, and getting their transcripts.
When it comes to helping a student complete their college applications it is important to have a plan for the entire senior class and a plan for individual students. It is also important to leverage your college application management platform and generate a weekly or daily report during this time to closely monitor and manage individual follow up with students. Some college counseling departments display and visualize college application status by counselor and school to keep a close pulse on progress towards college application completion targets.
But why is this so important? Behind all those incomplete college applications are students’ futures. This simply means that if a college application is not finished the student will not be considered for admissions at that college. And if they do not complete the application on time or by a priority deadline, and they are admitted, they may not be considered for university scholarships. So, students ultimately limit their options by not completing college applications.
The other reason this is important is from a programmatic perspective. This is where the data walk becomes necessary. If teams track and monitor all their student’s college applications closely, then it is possible to disaggregate to better understand:
- number of applications incomplete and complete;
- applications submitted by priority deadline and/or on time;
- which students are not completing their applications? Is there an equity gap; and
- a breakdown of the entire graduating class tells you: are there specific student profiles that need support?
With data and questions like these, program leaders and department heads can begin to develop and implement an action plan to address this issue. Teams might consider a school or district target (percent of total college applications started with a status of complete). This type of goal will help drive other initiatives like decreasing summer melt rates, increasing college matriculation rates, and ultimately increasing college completion rates.
Our team recognizes that most students are deep in their college application season, but if there is still a need for students to explore and research colleges, they can download our free college and career planning app, Encourage.
We can also help college counselors and advisors connect with their students’ plans through our in-school postsecondary planning program. If you want to get started with our free program, check us out at Encourage for Educators.
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