FAFSA Completion Colorado
July 7, 2020
During the 2018-2019 school year, 50% of high school seniors in Colorado did not complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and were consequently ineligible for over $50 million worth of grants for higher education. Completing the FAFSA is the only way to be eligible for federal funding for higher education, which includes Pell Grants up to $6,250 per year for those in poverty. As policymakers grapple with how to make college more affordable, a low-cost, high impact strategy should start with ensuring every student capitalizes on the financial aid package they are entitled to, and the only way to do that is by completing the FAFSA.
Unfortunately, the 2018-2019 school year was nothing new; Colorado is consistently below the national average in completing the FAFSA which has significant ramifications for both Colorado’s higher education institutions and Colorado’s workforce. Completing the FAFSA is one of the best predictors of whether a high school senior will go on to college. Nearly 90% of all students who complete the FAFSA immediately enroll in an institution of higher education, including a 127% increase for those at the lowest socioeconomic quartile.
Moreover, three out of every four jobs in Colorado require some sort of post-secondary degree or certification. Jobs that should be going to Colorado residents are instead going to those who were trained outside of Colorado, further perpetuating the Colorado Paradox.
And unfortunately, FAFSA completion rates are worse than last year and the year before that.
Today, only 45% of high school seniors in Colorado have completed the FAFSA, making Colorado one of the worst states in the country for completion, above only Utah, Washington, Alaska, and Arizona. Conversely, states like Louisiana, Tennessee, and Delaware have over 70% of their seniors completing the form, which means Colorado taxpayers are subsidizing college for students in Louisiana.
DFER-CO worked closely with Representative James Coleman and Senator Jeff Bridges to pass HB 18-1187 to increase FAFSA completion rates. This bill increased funding to school counselors in high need areas to help students and families complete the FAFSA. Unfortunately, due to the budget constraints because of the pandemic, funding was withdrawn before the program was implemented. We will work closely with lawmakers to make sure certain funding is restored once the economic situation improves. Funding for this program is self-evident: The cost of HB 1187 is $250,000 which means that if just 300 more Pell-grant eligible students applied for the FAFSA because HB 1187, the rate of return could be as high as $6 of federal funds for every $1 dollar our state would spend.
Containing the cost of college is one of the defining issues of our state. Thousands of jobs across Colorado remain unfilled because Colorado students do not have the skills they need to be employed. Increasing post-secondary access and completion is vital to the health of our economy and increasing FAFSA completion rates is the first step.
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