For the 2018-2019 FAFSA cycle, Louisiana led the nation with the highest number of high school seniors completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). With an overall FAFSA completion rate of 77.1%, Louisiana increased its completion rate over the previous year by 25.9%. Louisiana’s success can be attributed to both Louisiana’s new state financial aid policy and best practices developed by the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA).
In December 2015, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) passed a new state financial aid policy that intended to raise students’ access to both federal financial aid and state financial aid such as the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS)—Louisiana’s state merit-based scholarship program. The policy, which was made effective for the Class of 2018, required all graduating high school seniors to complete the FAFSA, apply for TOPS through the online application, submit an opt-out form, or receive a waiver from their high school.
In addition to the new state financial aid policy, the LOSFA implemented best practices that were developed through the 2016-2017 FAFSA Completion Challenge Grant. The grant, which was awarded by the National College Access Network (NCAN) and funded by the Kresge Foundation, challenged 22 grantee organizations to raise the FAFSA completion rate of 22 U.S. cities by at least 5%. LOSFA was awarded the grant to raise the FAFSA completion rate for the city of Baton Rouge.
After receiving the FAFSA Completion Challenge Grant, LOSFA implemented a number of creative and innovative initiatives that encouraged students and parents to complete the FAFSA. Ultimately, through these initiatives, the FAFSA completion rate of Baton Rouge increased by 5% over the 2015 baseline data, and these initiatives became the groundwork for LOSFA’s best practices for FAFSA completion in the State of Louisiana.
Here are six of LOSFA’s best practices that contributed to Louisiana’s rise in FAFSA completion rates:
1) FAFSA Completion Workshops: LOSFA partners with Louisiana high schools across the state to host FAFSA completion workshops. During the workshops, LOSFA staff and postsecondary partners visit Louisiana high schools to assist students with FAFSA completion during the school day. Once the student FAFSA completion events have been held, LOSFA assists parents with the completion of the FAFSA during evening or weekend events.
2) FAFSA Completion Community Events: LOSFA hosted several community events that were successful for FAFSA completion. Notably, the FAFSA Block Party is a fun and creative event that is hosted every summer to assist students and parents with last-minute completion or correction of the FAFSA. Hosted as a partnership between LOSFA and the East Baton Rouge Parish Library System, students and parents are invited to complete the FAFSA and enjoy refreshments at a local library in Baton Rouge.
3) Compete to Complete Competition/Website: During the 2016-2017, LOSFA developed the Compete to Complete competition as a friendly FAFSA completion competition among the 11 public high schools in Baton Rouge. As a part of the competition, the schools were judged on creativity, the highest monthly FAFSA completion, most improvement, and overall completion rate. The winning schools were then awarded pizza parties for the senior classes to enjoy.
To keep up with the competition, students, parents, and school administrators could visit LOSFA’s Compete to Complete website to see their school’s FAFSA completion progress. The Compete to Complete website now features FAFSA completion rates for all schools and districts in Louisiana. To see the website, visit www.competetocompletela.org.
4) FAFSA Ambassadors: LOSFA developed the FAFSA Ambassadors program, which is a peer-to-peer program that allowed current high school students to serve as peer leaders in assisting their fellow classmates with the completion of the FAFSA. Students were encouraged to complete the FAFSA because the Ambassadors were relatable and familiar with them.
5) FAFSA Lab: Another best practice that LOSFA implemented was the FAFSA Lab. The FAFSA Lab is located in LOSFA’s office, and it is a computer lab set up to assist students and parents with FAFSA completion. To access the lab, students and parents complete online registration to set up a time to receive convenient and private FAFSA completion assistance.
6) Communications: LOSFA implemented several effective modes of communications. The communication tools included text message reminders, social media posts, postcard invitations, PSAs, videos, and one-calls to communicate about FAFSA completion events and initiatives. One-calls were especially effective because high school principals used one-calls to reach parents about FAFSA completion events.
The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance will continue to implement these best practices and introduce new best practices to assist Louisiana seniors with FAFSA completion so that they can maximize the amount of state and federal financial aid that they can receive to matriculate and succeed in college.