Higher Poverty Means Lower FAFSA Completion, New Data Show

"In most states, high school seniors in higher-poverty school districts complete the FAFSA at lower rates than students in wealthier districts. To someone not familiar with the inequities of higher education, this may sound counterintuitive. However, new research demonstrates it is indeed the case," according to the National College Access Network.

"For every 10-percentage-point increase in the proportion of children living in poverty, a school district’s FAFSA completion rate declines by about 3 percentage points, according to research published by NCAN and conducted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Lindsay Page, Danielle J. Lowry and Aizat Nurshatayeva. In most states, having a higher level of poverty in a district actually suppresses FAFSA completion. The researchers observed this trend both across and within states.

Completing the FAFSA is the best predictor that a student will continue her education; therefore, the more students who complete the FAFSA at a high school, the better. Lower-income districts have more poor students who need higher amounts of aid; thus, those districts should have higher FAFSA completion rates. Yet the opposite is true, demonstrating that low-income students are still facing barriers in accessing financial aid for college.

Where do the individual states stand in terms of FAFSA completion? It varies dramatically. Only four states – California, Minnesota, Nevada, and New Hampshire – are successful in overall FAFSA completion and in closing equity gaps. These states have above-average FAFSA completion rates in school districts at the median poverty level, and also do not show a gap in the rate of FAFSA completion between lower- and higher-poverty districts. (NCAN is planning additional qualitative research to determine why these states do well.)"

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Publication Date: 4/21/2017

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