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High Schools Engaged in the Connecticut FAFSA Challenge Show Significant Year-over-Year Gains

For the second year in a row, high schools participating in the Connecticut FAFSA Challenge show improvements, outpacing state and national trends

(Hartford, CT) - In a newly released report, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) today announced that—for the second year in a row—the Connecticut FAFSA Challenge improved FAFSA completion rates among participating schools.  


In its second year, the FAFSA Challenge again helped students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and access critical resources to pursue their postsecondary goals. During the 2021-22 school year, 40 high schools in 19 districts participated in the FAFSA Challenge. On average, Challenge schools improved their FAFSA completion rates by over 8 percentage points from 41.9% in 2021 to 50.1% in 2022. During that same time period, statewide rates rose slightly to 56.4%.


“The FAFSA Challenge is making a big difference in the lives of thousands of deserving and talented Connecticut students,” said Governor Ned Lamont. “We are thrilled to see how innovative, collaborative, and results-driven partnerships can generate such a wonderful return on investment and life-changing opportunities for our students, families, and school communities.” 



        Chart 1. Connecticut FAFSA Completion Rates for Challenge Schools vs. Statewide in 2021 vs. 2022


Participating FAFSA Challenge schools received grants to pursue new and innovative ideas to promote FAFSA completion. Schools also benefited from free training opportunities around financial aid, coaching, and community of practice support from the Connecticut RISE Network. By forming the FAFSA Challenge community, teams worked together across schools and districts to share and spread promising practices.  


“We are so proud of Connecticut’s Class of 2022 and the many champions who support our students in pursuing their college and career goals,” said Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker. “The FAFSA Challenge serves as a powerful reminder that we can and will improve student outcomes and close opportunity gaps when we work together in new ways to help all students thrive.” 


In January 2021, the CSDE first launched the FAFSA Challenge in response to decreases in postsecondary enrollment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Informed by national research and state data, the CSDE targeted FAFSA completion to promote access to and the affordability of higher education. Connecticut’s youth are joining an economy that demands skilled workers and critical thinkers. More than 70% of Connecticut jobs will require some form of education beyond a high school diploma. While most students aspire to higher education, only 25% of Connecticut’s high school graduates from low-income families earn a college degree within six years of graduating from high school, and the data reveal troubling access barriers for historically marginalized students. This past year, the cohort of students eligible for free- or reduced-priced meals increased their FAFSA rate by nearly 7 percentage points relative to the class of 2021, a remarkable jump likely attributable to the increased attention on FAFSA completion by Challenge schools, which disproportionately serve a large number of students with high needs. FAFSA completion can promote access to higher education and serves as one of the best predictors of whether seniors will pursue higher education. 


During the pilot year in 2020-21, CSDE partnered with the Office of the Governor and the Connecticut RISE Network to design an application process for the FAFSA Challenge and to facilitate a community of practice among participating schools and districts. In its first year, the FAFSA Challenge engaged 26 high schools in 16 districts in a statewide effort to increase FAFSA completion rates. By the end of the 2020-21 school year, schools participating in the FAFSA Challenge collectively increased their completion rates by nearly 4 percentage points, while the national FAFSA completion rate declined. The results from the second year of the FAFSA Challenge in 2021-22 build on the first year’s successes.   


More information on the Connecticut FAFSA Challenge, including a list of participating schools and districts, is available on the Connecticut State Department of Education’s website. The 2022 FAFSA Challenge winners and details on the 2022-23 FAFSA Challenge will be announced at an in-person event in September.  



For Immediate Release: September 8, 2022 


CSDE Contact:

Eric Scoville, Director of Communications 


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