2020-21 FAFSA Challenge Schools Collectively Increase their completion Rates by Nearly 4 Percentage Points
In January 2021, Connecticut launched its first FAFSA Challenge, engaging 26 high schools across 16 school districts. The initiative responded to local and national data pointing to lower FAFSA completion rates during the COVID-19 pandemic, and was designed to improve FAFSA completion rates among high school seniors. Schools participating in the FAFSA Challenge increased FAFSA completion rates by an average of 4 percentage points; at the same time, the statewide FAFSA completion rate stayed flat at 55 percent and the country’s FAFSA completion rates declined by over 4 percent relative to 2020. Moreover, while the statewide FAFSA completion rate for some of our most vulnerable student groups changed little from 2020 to 2021, among Challenge schools, the FAFSA completion percentage for students with high needs increased by nearly three percentage points, and the completion percentage for students eligible for free meals increased by nearly four percentage points. See the 2020-21 Statewide FAFSA Completion Report for more information. These early results are promising and address needs and opportunities highlighted by national research and historic data.
Overall, 42 percent of the high schools participating in the 2021 FAFSA Challenge exceeded their 2020 FAFSA completion rates in 2021 by 5 points or more. The state is recognizing the following four "challenge" schools for achieving the highest year-over-year improvements and the overall highest completion rates through the 2020-21 FAFSA Challenge. These schools have shown improvements in FAFSA completion rates from 2019-20 to 2020-21 of anywhere from approximately 11 to 43 percentage points with one school achieving a rate of nearly 78 percent in 2020-21 FAFSA completion rates.
- Synergy Alternative Program in East Hartford
- Orville H. Platt High School in Meriden
- West Haven High School in West Haven
- P-TECH Norwalk in Norwalk
Connecticut is also recognizing additional winners from the 2020-21 FAFSA Challenge and releasing a 2020-21 FAFSA Challenge Promising Practices Brief.
Governor Lamont and Commissioner Russell-Tucker launch the 2021-22 FAFSA Challenge
The Connecticut Governor’s Office and the CSDE are continuing the FAFSA Challenge during the 2021-22 school year, beginning in September 2021 with a nine-month initiative where high schools across the state will be charged with boosting FAFSA completion rates for the class of 2022 relative to the class of 2021. The FAFSA Challenge will provide microgrants, trainings, and other resources to up to 53 eligible high schools serving students with high needs as a means of helping seniors access the financial aid they deserve to pursue a postsecondary education.
- 2021-22 FAFSA Challenge Application for Eligible Schools and Districts (Qualtrics submission form)
- Schools can also view a PDF from Qualtrics of the FAFSA challenge application. However, please note that all applications should be submitted through Qualtrics.
- List of Schools and Districts Eligible for 2021-22 FAFSA Challenge
- FAFSA Challenge 2021-22: Overview and Application Informational Session (September 29, 2021 - 2:30 pm) Slide deck Video Recording (YouTube)
- FAFSA Completion Rates - EdSight Dashboard
- FAFSA Challenge "Buddy List" - partner organizations for districts and schools
Measures of Success for the 2021-2022 FAFSA Challenge
A statewide completion goal of 60% or an increase of approximately 5 percentage points from 2020-21
90% of FAFSA Challenge Schools will increase their FAFSA completion rate by 5 percentage points or more
100% of high school schools in the FAFSA Challenge will strengthen their partnerships with institutions of higher education and/or community-based organizations
Why Does Connecticut Run a FAFSA Challenge?
The Connecticut Governor’s Office and Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) are committed to ensuring all students graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary success. Specifically, the FAFSA Challenge seeks to advance three overarching objectives:
- Improve Student Outcomes: Support students in achieving their goals for college, career, and life success by addressing FAFSA completion as a core access milestone.
- Close Opportunity Gaps: Promote access for all students by closing opportunity gaps for historically marginalized subgroups and school communities.
- Spark Innovation: Support schools in pursuing creative ideas to promote FAFSA completion.
Even prior to the pandemic, thousands of Connecticut students eligible for federal student aid failed to submit the FAFSA each year, leaving millions of unclaimed dollars that could support students’ postsecondary education. The FAFSA is a critical access milestone in preparing high school students to pursue a higher education. Administered by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid, the FAFSA provides hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Connecticut students.
FAFSA completion and college access are important, in part, because more than 70 percent of Connecticut jobs require some form of education beyond a high school diploma, and nine of the 10 fastest-growing occupations require at least an associate’s degree. While many students aspire to a higher education, less than half of Connecticut high school graduates will earn a college degree within six years of graduating from high school. College enrollment and completion data also reveal opportunity gaps for historically marginalized subgroups. Completion of the FAFSA is one of the best predictors of whether or not seniors will enroll in college; students who complete the FAFSA are 84 percent more likely to immediately enroll in postsecondary education.