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Gov. Lamont Announces FAFSA Completion Challenge for Connecticut School Districts

Report by Paula Antolini, December 9, 2020, 12:23PM EDT

Eligible Districts Compete for $10,000 Prize and Receive Additional Resources and Support to Improve FAFSA Completion

(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Ned Lamont today issued a challenge to all Connecticut school districts to increase by at least five percent their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion rates among the Class of 2021.

The statewide FAFSA Challenge, a partnership between the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) and the Connecticut College and Career Readiness Alliance (CCCRA), aims to strengthen postsecondary access and enrollment by raising FAFSA completion rates among high school seniors. Additionally, the partnership seeks proposals for the FAFSA Completion Challenge from 21 eligible Connecticut school districts in which ten will be selected for additional support and resources towards this goal.

“While today’s high school seniors will have to navigate an economy that has been dramatically changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, college continues to be an important pathway that can provide students with the skills for work and for lifelong learning,” Governor Lamont said. “Research tells us that students who complete the FAFSA are more likely to attend college and more likely to get financial aid for college. The FAFSA can unlock Pell grants, financial aid like the Roberta Willis Scholarship, and federal student loans. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of the pandemic has been a reduction in high school seniors who have completed the FAFSA. I urge districts to join the FAFSA Challenge and help their seniors in completing the FAFSA. We will not allow Connecticut’s strong completion rate for the FAFSA be another casualty of the pandemic. I thank Commissioner Cardona, the Connecticut State Department of Education, and the Connecticut College and Career Readiness Alliance for spearheading this important initiative.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted many facets of our education system and FAFSA completion is no exception,” Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said. “However, we must push back on this declining trend if we want to ensure our students’ educational trajectories and all of the promising options available to them upon graduation. This challenge demonstrates our commitment to building on our ongoing efforts to improve postsecondary outcomes, especially for our most vulnerable, by connecting them with the additional support and resources they need. We encourage our district partners to take advantage of this opportunity to engage stakeholders and focus resources in support of our students and state’s future success and economic strength.”

“Connecticut’s FAFSA Completion Challenge comes at a pivotal time when we must double down on our efforts to get more students the postsecondary opportunities they deserve,” Chris Soto, CSDE Director of Innovation and Partnerships, said. “This is particularly important as we work to build Connecticut’s workforce of tomorrow. We’re hoping this challenge will help districts develop coordinated plans to ensure students understand the importance of completing the FAFSA and follow through on this critical step of the college process.”

FAFSA completion is strongly associated with postsecondary enrollment and outcomes given that 90 percent of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA attend college directly from high school, compared to just 55 percent of FAFSA non-completers.

In September 2021, Governor Lamont and Commissioner Cardona will publicly recognize four school districts who have demonstrated the greatest percentage point growth in high school FAFSA completions for the Class of 2021, compared to the Class of 2020. Two winning districts and two runners-up will be publicly recognized, with the winning district from a cohort of ten receiving a grant award of $10,000.

Thousands of Connecticut students who are eligible for college aid fail to file the FAFSA each year and in doing so, leave millions of unclaimed dollars that could support their postsecondary education. A recent analysis by the financial media company NerdWallet found that approximately 12,000 Connecticut seniors in the graduating Class of 2018 failed to complete the form and slightly less than half of those FAFSA non-completers would have been eligible for Pell Grants totaling $17 million. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the obstacles many Connecticut students and families face when completing the FAFSA with form completions down 16 percent compared to this time last year. This statewide challenge is designed to help those districts in most need overcome the obstacles to completion while providing targeted support based on national best practices.

To review details about eligibility determination, selection criteria, grant awards, and application/challenge timelines, click here.

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