SALT LAKE CITY – According to a recent report from the Education Strategy Group, Utah students left over $55 million in unclaimed federal financial aid on the table in 2018-19 and only about 35.5% of Utah high school seniors completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid that same year.
Completion of the FAFSA directly impacts college affordability for many students, as it is the only way to receive federal Pell grants and federally subsidized student loans. FAFSA completion can also be a requirement for many scholarships, including the Utah Promise Scholarship introduced in 2019.
Utah has made great strides in improving FAFSA completion for high school seniors over the past several years, including a 39% increase between 2016-17 and 2017-18 and a 7.6% increase between 2018-19 and 2019-20 with 42.4% of the 2019 Utah high school graduating class completing the FAFSA. Despite Utah’s recent improvements in FAFSA completion, the state still remains second to last in the country (including the District of Columbia), just above Alaska.
“I’m pleased to see Utah’s recent improvements in FAFSA completion, but more must be done,” said Dave R. Woolstenhulme, Interim Commissioner of Higher Education. “Pending legislative funding, college access advisors will be on the ground across the state, serving more than two-thirds of the graduating class and helping students apply for college, complete their FAFSA and more. Our college access advisors are essential to increasing FAFSA completion for all Utah students.”
The Utah System of Higher Education is working to close the FAFSA completion gap which will ultimately get more students into college. According to research, approximately 90% of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA attend college directly from high school, compared to just 55% of FAFSA non-completers.
One way USHE is closing that gap is through its college access advising program. The mission of the college access advisors is to:
In high schools with a college access advisor, the college participation rate is anticipated to increase by 5%, and the FAFSA completion rate is expected to average 45%.
The Utah System of Higher Education also partners with the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority on FAFSA completion efforts. The UHEAA outreach team helps facilitate and promote FAFSA completion across Utah by training high school counselors and educators on the FAFSA and other forms of financial aid, and byhosting more than 130 FAFSA Completion Open Houses throughout the state for students and their families. Other UHEAA Outreach resources and programming include print publications, online videos and materials, and year-round support for counselors and educators.
The Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) is governed by the Board of Regents and is comprised of Utah’s eight public colleges and universities. The CEO of USHE is the Commissioner of Higher Education. For more information, visit ushe.edu.