New Interactive Tool Helps High Schools Track Financial Aid Applications

Less than half of high school seniors in Florida complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which helps determine their qualifications for college financial assistance. A new online tool aims to help schools change that, and ultimately increase the number of students who enroll in college.

The Florida FAFSA Finish Line was created by Florida College Access Network (FCAN), a Tampa-based nonprofit whose mission is to improve college and career preparation for Florida students. The tool allows schools, researchers and other educational stakeholders to monitor the number of 12th graders who complete the FAFSA. The data is extracted from the U.S. Department of Education and Florida Department of Education for the 2011 – 2012 and 2012-2013 school years.

"If students don’t have money, they don’t have access to college regardless of their academic preparation. We want to be able to use the data in a more dynamic way and create a platform for other people throughout the state to use and interact with it," says Troy Miller, senior researcher and policy analyst at the FCAN and creator of the tool.

The interactive map is searchable by indicators such as school name, city and county and provides information at the school level such as percentage of low-income students and graduation rate.

The FAFSA is an important tool in the college application process because it alerts students to financial aid available -- both in the form of loans and free Pell grants. A growing population of students in Florida demonstrate financial need (during the 2012-13 school year, 59 percent of K-12 students were eligible for free and reduced lunch), but studies have shown that many don’t fill out the application because they don’t think they will qualify for aid.

The Florida FAFSA Finish Line is intended to be a resource for schools to track and monitor their own progress with helping high school seniors complete the FAFSA. They can also compare themselves with other schools to identify areas where they can improve.

"We want to provide useful, local, targeted data to raise the importance about the FAFSA," says Miller, adding that the data is timely, and taken from the most recent school year (February through June 2013).

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Troy Miller, FCAN

Read more articles by Megan Hendricks.

Megan Hendricks is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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