Counselors hit the road, hoping to boost grim FAFSA completion numbers

State officials are hitting the road in the next few weeks, hoping to prop up Idaho’s dismal college financial aid application rates.

FAFSA Summer Office Hours events will be held across Idaho, as State Board of Education officials are encouraging high school seniors to fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid by July 30. (Click here to see the event schedule.)

A grant from the Los Angeles-based ECMC Foundation has enabled the State Board to hire college and career counselors to staff the office hours. Spanish-speaking advisers will staff some of the events.

The State Board hopes snacks and sweepstakes will encourage turnout; food will be available at each event, and participants will qualify to win a $25 gas card.

But the big draw is the promise of financial aid to cover the cost of college — specifically, nearly $7,400 in federal Pell grants for eligible students.

“That is enough to cover the cost of first-year tuition at Idaho’s community colleges and numerous local trade schools, and at least 80 percent of tuition at Idaho’s public universities,” said Jenni Kimball, the State Board’s college and career program manager.

Students also must fill out the FAFSA in order to qualify for the state’s Opportunity Scholarship, which provides up to $3,500 a year to attend an Idaho college or university. The FAFSA isn’t required for Idaho Launch, a new program that provides up to $8,000 for seniors who are pursuing a college degree or job training aligned to an in-demand career; however, students can use their Launch money for tuition and fees and use federal aid to cover housing costs.

For students and parents in Idaho and across the nation, filling out this year’s FAFSA has posed new challenges. The federal government rolled out a new version of the FAFSA — attempting to simplify the notoriously complicated form. But the rollout itself has been plagued with problems, delaying financial aid awards and raising the specter of a higher ed enrollment slide this fall.

Historically, Idaho’s FAFSA completion rate has lagged behind most states, and the botched rollout of the new form hasn’t helped matters.

As of June 14, 9,053 Idaho seniors had completed the FAFSA, down from 10,333 seniors at the same time the previous year.

Idaho’s 36% completion rate ranks 45th in the nation, according to Data Insight Partners, a Las Vegas firm that updates FAFSA application numbers on a weekly basis.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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