Slightly fewer than half of Idaho’s high school seniors have applied for federal college financial aid, according to new national estimates.
The good news: Idaho’s application rate is improving — and improving more rapidly than most other states.
About 11,000 Idaho seniors have filled out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, according to the National College Access Network. That translates to a 49.5 percent completion rate.
Only seven states have a lower FAFSA completion rate, according to the network’s estimates. All of these states are west of the Rocky Mountains — and the list includes neighboring states Nevada, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Nationally, the FAFSA completion rate is stuck at about 61 percent.
The network also tracks changes in FAFSA completion rates, and here, Idaho fares much better. Idaho’s completion rate is up by an estimated 3 percent this year. Only nine states and the District of Columbia posted a more robust improvement.
The FAFSA is a precursor to obtaining federal financial aid, such as Pell grants and student loans. And as Idaho’s education leaders hope to convince more high school graduates to stay in school, they are trying to emphasize the importance of filling out the FAFSA paperwork.
FAFSA completion nights are now commonplace in numerous high schools, allowing students and their parents to fill out the forms with the help of financial aid advisers. Many high schools also use FAFSA completion as a metric to measure the effectiveness of their college and career advising programs.
While the FAFSA is an important step in qualifying for aid, critics say the form is cumbersome and intimidating to many parents and students.
The National College Access Network emphasizes that their state rankings are estimates. Federal data for smaller high schools is unavailable, and the group uses estimates to calculate states’ graduating classes.
But the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit says the advantages of filling out a FAFSA are clear.
“High school seniors who complete the FAFSA by graduation day … are more likely to make a thoughtful and informed decision about where they enroll for higher education with the assistance of a college access advisor, school counselor, teacher, or other administrator,” the group says on its website.
More reading about FAFSA completion rates from the Hechinger Report.