By on 10.20.21 in Education

The application cycle for the 2022-23 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) cycle began on October 1, 2021 and runs through 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2023. Students are strongly recommended to fill out the form as soon as possible after October 1 because awards are made until funds are depleted. Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, provides more than $150 billion in financial aid each year.

Completing the FAFSA is strongly and positively associated with postsecondary enrollment. An analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that 88% of high school seniors who completed a FAFSA in 2012-13 had attended college by February 2016, compared to 49% of students who did not file a FAFSA.

FAFSA completion is also a critical component of working towards the myFutureNC (MFNC) goal of ensuring that 2 million North Carolinians have a postsecondary degree or credential by 2030.

FAFSA completion rates fell during the pandemic. According to the National College Action Network, as of early July 2, 2021, FAFSA applications were down 4.8% for the high school class of 2021 compared to the prior year. Data from the National College Attainment Network shows that these percentages were larger in high schools with more than 40% Black and Hispanic students; those schools saw an 8.1% drop in FAFSA completions compared to a decline of 2.2% in schools with lower shares of Black and Hispanic students.

Tracking completion rates

Tracking FAFSA completion rates can help school districts and schools better target their efforts to reach students in their districts.

We developed the NC First in FAFSA tool for last year’s FAFSA cycle with MFNC, the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA), and school counselors. The tracker helps guidance counselors, principals, and school administrators view their current estimated completion percentages, track their progress over time, compare to other schools, and even view district level totals.

screenshot of First in FAFSA tracker

How we calculate the numbers

Data about submission and completion numbers for the FAFSA are provided by Federal Student Aid (FSA)  and enrollment is drawn from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NC  DPI). Using these values, we calculate a completion rate for each public school (including charters) and Local Education Agency (LEA) in the state. Private school enrollment data is not available but the tracker provides information on FAFSA completions for these schools.

Launching the 2022-23 FAFSA Tracker

On October 19th, we’re releasing the first iteration of the 2022-23 FAFSA Tracker. It will initially look quite different from last year’s version. FSA data on completed and submitted FAFSA forms for the new cycle are available starting in mid-October. However, NC DPI does not release the enrollment data we use until later this year (Month 2 of Principal’s Monthly Report). Therefore, we are unable to calculate completion rates until the beginning of 2022.

This preliminary tracker will contain 3 text tables containing only submission and completion values from FSA at these levels:

  • public schools (including charters);
  • districts (LEA); and
  • private schools.

While enrollment data are not included, there is a new feature that will allow users to enter their own estimated number of graduating seniors, so they can see an unofficial completion rate for their school or district.

What we learned from last year

We integrated a lot of what we learned from last year’s FAFSA Tracker in this year’s iteration. Feedback from educators and partners helped us refine the tracker and make it easier to use. Some things you’ll notice:

  • Many schools are referred to by different names in various datasets. For example, a school may be referred to as “High School X” in the FSA data, but then be written has “High School X Central” in NC DPI. If you feel that your school should be included in the tracker, but is not, please reach out to demography@unc.edu and let us know!
  • School names may change over time. If your school name has changed, please let us know by emailing demography@unc.edu and we will address the issue to the best of our ability.
  • FSA data is on a one-week delay; it takes an additional day or two for us to download, process, verify, and integrate the data into the tracker. This is why the tracker will show a roughly two-week delay between the current date and the most recent update. For example, the tracker launched on October 19th contains data on FAFSA completions through October 8th

First in FAFSA Collaboration Recognized by PIE

The Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network builds, supports and promotes a network of education advocacy organizations working to improve K-12 education in their states so that every student graduates high school world-ready.  Ever year, PIE also gives out awards for in various categories to the organizations working in the sphere mentioned above. The First in FAFSA collaboration was given an Honorable Mention for “Best Collaboration” during the 2021 awards.

The Best Collaboration category features coalitions of leaders and organizations who worked together to achieve a significant impact for students and families.

The First in FAFSA partnership encompassed a number of activities, including the launch of the FAFSA tracker and the website. In addition, the coalition of partners across North Carolina expanded access to 97% of public high schools to Finish the FAFSA, created a community of practice for practitioners in 42 priority districts that came together as a FAFSA network sharing in promising practices, developed and disseminated FAFSA Completion resources such as the Peer into Your Future First Generation Series, social media toolkits, mythbuster resources and bi-monthly newsletters; conducted training and webinars reaching nearly 500 counselors, college advisors and youth-serving organizations and offered important virtual and in-person bilingual assistance to Latinx students and their families.


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