This college admissions season, thousands of Houston high school seniors will complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the first time. Every October, the application opens up for the next school year and is often the first step many graduating seniors take in making college affordability a reality.
What is FAFSA?
The FAFSA provides students access to federal grants, student loans, and work-study programs. It also gives colleges and universities a uniform way to identify a student’s financial need. Some colleges even require a completed FAFSA for merit-based scholarships.
Given the importance of completing the FAFSA, Good Reason Houston launched the FAFSA Houston initiative in 2018, creating a free Houston-based website that helps families navigate the financial aid process, brings together community leaders for the FAFSA Houston Coalition, and provides direct professional development to school district leaders. Corporate partners like ConocoPhillips have joined the initiative since the launch and continue to fund critical postsecondary efforts.
New state legislation
As the FAFSA Houston initiative continued providing support to partners, the state of Texas passed legislation that made completing a FAFSA or the Texas Application for Free Student Aid, TASFA, a graduation requirement (with a waiver option) in 2019.
The landmark bill, part of the larger Education Reform bill known as HB3, was modeled after similar legislation in Louisiana and Tennessee. The graduation requirement was originally planned to go into effect with the graduating class of 2021, but due to the pandemic, it went into effect in 2022.
Early outcomes in Texas
Since implementation, FAFSA completion rates in Texas have outpaced the national average, and last year Texas finished in the top 5 in FAFSA completion. Currently, Texas is ranked 7th in the nation, according to NCAN’s FAFSA Tracker.
As we dig deeper into the data, in December 2022, FAFSA completion in Harris County hovered at the state average of 33%, and is currently pacing at a slower rate than last year. This includes several Houston area districts, currently pacing below their 2022 FAFSA completion levels for the same time period.
Seen as a reliable indicator of a student’s interest in college enrollment immediately after graduation, a slower pace of FAFSA completions could be indicative of concerns surrounding college enrollment among students. According to a recent Forbes article, “The expectation among college leaders that this would be the semester where lost ground began to be made up did not pan out. Instead, concerns over college costs and student loan debt coupled with a strong labor market continue to suppress enrollments.”
Now more than ever, counselors, advisors, teachers, and administrators must work with students and families to share the value of obtaining postsecondary education. Students need exposure to robust professional pathways, an understanding of affordable postsecondary options, and technical support for the financial aid application process.
Through the generous support of our partners, such as ConocoPhillips, Good Reason Houston will continue to evolve our strategy to meet the unique needs of our district partners. This will include monitoring financial aid completion, sharing relevant data on a range of College, Career, and Military Readiness metrics, and providing more robust opportunities to help students who are transitioning from high school to college or the workforce.
The Regional Progress Data Dashboard on our website has a College and Career Readiness tab, which allows visitors to explore local school data as it relates to these indicators and shows comparisons across districts. Choose the Regional Progress dashboard and then choose the College + Career Readiness icon along the top menu.