The cat’s out of the bag: Utah has the lowest completion rate for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) of any state in the nation, with only 34% of eligible applicants filling it out. The FAFSA is a primary step for students to obtain free federal financial aid, such as Pell grants, which are based on financial need and do not need to be repaid.
During 2013-14, Utah students received over $400 million in Pell grants alone. That sounds like a lot; however, it is less than 1.5% of the $32 billion in Pell grant funds awarded during the 2013-14 academic year. Utah students are collectively leaving millions of dollars in financial aid on the table, aid that can be a critical means for students who would not otherwise be able to afford a college education.
Other federal financial aid options based on FAFSA eligibility includes the federal Work Study program and loans (which must be repaid). The FAFSA is also used in identifying eligibility for institution-based aid and other private need-based aid programs.
To help assist Utah high school and college students, colleges and universities in the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) recently held several events across the state and worked with various partner organizations to build awareness and help Utah students fill out the FAFSA from January to April 2015 (commonly known as “FAFSA Season”).
Weber State University
Weber State University has helped to make financing easier by offering free help in completing the FAFSA during February and March, for any college or university. FAFSA help was offered at both Davis and Ogden campuses.
Dixie State University
Financial aid administrators coordinated efforts with the area high school counselors and held Financial Aid Day/Nights at the high schools to answer questions and help high school seniors get started in applying for financial aid and scholarships. DSU also held an on-campus open house focused on assisting non-traditional students.
Utah Valley University
UVU financial aid counselors helped coordinate outreach events at high schools throughout the region. UVU also provides kiosks in the Administration Building encouraging parents and students to complete the FAFSA.
University of Utah
The U began a social media campaign regarding completing the application for the 15/16 year in December 2014. The campaign ran through February and led up to their FAFSA Awareness Week, February 2-8. They held a number of tabling and workshops across campus during that week. An article in the student newspaper highlighted their efforts. In addition, the U sent emails to their continuing and prospective students to encourage them to complete the application. The U also offered walk-in services in their office to help students and families to complete the FAFSA. They have participated in 30+ events on and off campus during the past four months to help promote FAFSA completion. As a result of their efforts, they have seen a substantial increase in completed applications over the same time last year.
Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA)
UHEAA is the state’s public loan servicer and has a long history of working with higher education institutions and high schools in sponsoring financial aid nights to assist students and parents to learn more about financial aid opportunities available.