CCA hosted a series of FAFSA-focused webinars in April and May to identify successful strategies for mitigating the complications surrounding this year’s federal financial aid process. Facilitated by CCA Vice President for Research, Policy, and Advocacy Charles Ansell, the webinars included representatives from the US Department of Education and Federal Student Aid and financial aid leaders across the CCA Alliance.

Along with providing feedback to Department of Education officials on this year’s FAFSA process, the webinars included institutional and state financial aid leaders sharing strategies that have seen success in increasing FAFSA completion rates during this tumultuous year of change for the FAFSA.

Among the actionable takeaways shared by these states, systems, and organizations:

  1. Implementation of creative outreach strategies and tactics:
    Successful outreach strategies included targeted email and text messaging campaigns, coordinated social media promotions, PSAs from state leadership, direct mail to students’ homes, and creative incentives like giveaways. Many states and systems are hosting expanded in-person and virtual FAFSA completion workshops on evenings and weekends, setting up help hotlines and chat support, and embedding FAFSA assistance at existing school and community events. Several states also described extensive training for counselors, financial aid staff, and other partners to increase capacity.
  2. Leveraging data to drive progress:
    State and system leaders noted that having access to timely, actionable data is critical for making strategic decisions and monitoring progress. They emphasized the importance of regularly refreshing data matches to identify students who have not completed the FAFSA and sharing that information with those who can provide direct outreach and support, such as high school counselors and financial aid offices. Some are going a step further by setting micro-targets, such as challenging each high school to increase FAFSA completions by a specific number and tracking progress weekly to maintain a sense of urgency. A few states also described creating data dashboards and trackers to help districts and campuses quickly and easily see their FAFSA numbers and how they compare to peers. Integrated databases and reformatting data systems have allowed some states to be more nimble in responding to needed changes this cycle.
  3. Developing strategic partnerships:
    With the increased challenges and volume of support needed, strengthening and expanding partnerships has been a critical strategy. Several states described working closely with their governor and state agencies to secure additional resources through new budget allocations, grant programs, and regulatory flexibility. Many states and systems are developing creative partnerships to bring in additional “flex” support for campus staff. This includes hiring near-peer mentors and retired educators, deploying AmeriCorps members, mobilizing volunteers from the business community, and partnering with nonprofits and community groups that can provide trusted outreach and direct assistance. Internally, some states also described breaking down silos between their higher education and K-12 agencies and campuses to facilitate better coordination and problem-solving.

While states are still behind prior FAFSA completion levels overall, the collective efforts and innovations shared throughout the CCA Alliance demonstrate an unwavering commitment to supporting students and families. As one presenter put it, the work right now is about “patience and persistence” – continuing to identify and implement responsive strategies to boost FAFSA completion and address barriers as they emerge. Sharing real-time insights and best practices across states will help states, systems, institutions, and students navigate this unique cycle and strengthen efforts to increase college completion rates even among this year’s FAFSA challenges.

Resources shared during the webinars:

Complete College America is grateful to the following experts and financial aid leaders for sharing their insights:

  • Dr. Michelle Ashcraft, Indiana Commission for Higher Education
  • Bill DeBaun, National College Attainment Network
  • Donna Linderman, The State University of New York
  • Dr. Chuck Lloyd, Community College System of New Hampshire
  • Lucy McIntyre, The City University of New York
  • Laura Myers, The City University of New York
  • Jason Seay, Tennessee Higher Education Commission & Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation
  • James Snider, Tennessee Higher Education Commission & Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation
  • Sarah Szurpicki, Office of 60 by 30, Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential
  • Brian Weingart, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission