myFutureNC, in partnership with Carolina Demography, created the North Carolina FAFSA Challenge Dashboard to help schools, researchers and other education stakeholders monitor the number of seniors at North Carolina’s 560 public high schools who have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
What is the FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form that determines eligibility for state and federal financial aid to cover higher education expenses.
School-level FAFSA completion rates were calculated using data from two sources: Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Federal Student Aid provides information on FAFSA submissions and completions. All other information, including school names, school type, senior enrollments, the proportion of low-income students, and the proportion of students of color were obtained from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
1. What data are you using to determine how many seniors our school has?
This data is from the Principal Monthly Report (PMR) Enrollment for Month 2 from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Total seniors were determined based on the number of Grade 12 students in the school, except for schools where the number of Grade 13 students was greater than the number of Grade 12 students. For these schools, the total seniors were determined based on the number of Grade 13 students; this currently represents 5 schools:
2. The total seniors calculated in Month 2 is no longer accurate for the number of seniors at my school. Can it be updated?
The enrollment data to determine the number of seniors at each school included in the First in FAFSA Tracker will only be updated once, using the Month 2 PMR Enrollment. To ensure that we are reporting consistent numbers from a single source, we are unable to make updates to this data point throughout the academic year.
The best tool to account for known changes in your senior class is Finish the FAFSA. This will allow you to customize the cohort you are using to calculate completion rates to account for your specific local context.
3. Where does the data for FAFSA completion rate come from?
This data is from the US Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office which provides school-level FAFSA submission and completion data for 12th graders, by state, on a weekly basis from October to June and bi-weekly thereafter.
Overall, FAFSA completion rates are underestimated and may impact certain areas or schools more than others. High schools with fewer than five FAFSA completers are not reported by Federal Student Aid.
4. Which students are counted in FAFSA completion numbers?
The FAFSA application does not ask whether the applicant is a high school senior. Instead, Federal Student Aid estimates a student’s status based on a series of assumptions. Federal Student Aid notes that the following students are not included in the high school data:
This is not a comprehensive list. You can find a complete list of data details and assumptions on the FAFSA completion website.
5. Which schools are missing from the North Carolina First in FAFSA Tracker?
The following schools were omitted from the NC First in FAFSA Tracker:
6. Should the data I see for my school regarding the number of students and the number of FAFSAs submitted and completed match what I see on my school’s Finish the FAFSA report?
They should be similar, but they may not be identical. There are several reasons why the Tracker may not match the report in Finish the FAFSA. First, Finish the FAFSA identifies all grade 12 and 13 students as potential seniors, which may lead to larger senior class sizes reported than those identified in the First in FAFSA tracker. Second, Finish the FAFSA updates every business day, while the federal data in the Tracker updates weekly October through June. Third, Finish the FAFSA is intended to help counselors assist specific seniors at their schools, rather than serve as a basis for comparison among schools. Therefore, the list of seniors in Finish the FAFSA is updated for the second semester to show any seniors at that school who were not there in the fall semester. Fourth, not all students listed in Finish the FAFSA may be identified as a senior by Federal Student Aid (see above). Finally, even if a school has fewer than 5 FAFSA filers, the authorized school-based users of Finish the FAFSA will see the FAFSA completion status for those students listed in the report.
7. Is it possible to compare FAFSA completion progress this year to how our school was doing this time last year?
For the inaugural year of the First in FAFSA Tracker, we are only displaying FAFSA completion rates for the current year. Given the challenging year our schools, educators, students, and families are facing, we will consider this cycle a baseline year for the Tracker. June completion data for the last two FAFSA cycles is available for download here.
Beginning in the 2021-22 academic year, the First in FAFSA Tracker will include prior year FAFSA completion data, as determined in June 2021 using Federal Student Aid and NCDPI data.
1. How do I sort the school data alphabetically?
To sort the data alphabetically, click on the menu to the right of Name and click on “Alphabetic.”
2. What schools are included on the map?
The map of Local Education Agencies includes data on all public schools, excluding charters.
3. Are private schools included in the First in FAFSA Tracker?
Private schools are not included because we are unable to access senior enrollment data for private schools from a single source.
If you are at a private school and are interested in the number of FAFSA submissions and completions at your school, visit the Federal Student Aid website here. Data is updated weekly, starting in October. Once there, download the North Carolina spreadsheet and search for your school on the “NC 2021-22 Cycle” worksheet. To calculate your FAFSA completion rate, divide the number of completed applications by the size of your senior class.
4. Are charter schools included in the First in FAFSA Tracker?
Yes. To find data on charter schools, you can select a specific school under the “School Name” menu. To see all charter schools, select the charter option under the “School Type” menu.
5. I’m not sure what my school’s demographic data are (senior class size, urban/rural, the percent of students of color, or the percent of students from low-income families). Can I find that information in the First in FAFSA Tracker to help me do comparisons?
Yes, this data is found in multiple places. You can use the filter by “School Name” to find your specific school. The tool tips that appear when you hover each school’s blue bar will highlight their specific data points. The “About School” page also highlights these data points when an individual school is selected.
From there, the filters on the homepage will allow you to sort based on these data to show similar schools.
6. What’s the difference between submitted and completed?
Submitted means that the application was sent in but may or may not have all required portions completed. Completed means that an application was submitted and fully completed.
If a FAFSA form is submitted but not complete, the student will receive an email from the Department of Education asking them to correct their FAFSA. A completed FAFSA is necessary to determine eligibility for federal and state student aid and is often used for other forms of financial aid, such as institutional aid. A common explanation for a FAFSA that was “submitted but not completed” is that a signature for either the parent or the student is missing. Authorized users of CFNC’s Finish the FAFSA can see student-level data to determine which students have submitted, completed, or not started the FAFSA (see below).
7. How do I know what students have submitted but not completed and what students haven’t started their FAFSA yet?
The First in FAFSA Tracker only highlights the number of students who have submitted versus completed. It does not have student-level data to determine which students have submitted, completed, or not started the FAFSA. However, CFNC’s Finish the FAFSA, a password protected database report, does provide student-level information for authorized users. Authorized users are staff who work directly with seniors on FAFSA completion and college access.
For the Finish the FAFSA database report, the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority matches high school student enrollment data from NCDPI with US Department of Education FAFSA filing data to report student-level data regarding submissions, completions, errors, and those students selected for verification. 97% of public schools in North Carolina have the necessary data-use agreement to access Finish the FAFSA. If you have questions about whether your school has access and/or who at your school has access to Finish the FAFSA, please contact Outreach@ncseaa.edu
8. If I would like to compare a school of similar size and urban/rural context, how do I do this using the First in FAFSA tracker?
You can use the ‘Senior Class Size’ and ‘Geographical Density’ menus at the top of the home page to isolate schools by size and geographic density type, respectively. More than one option from the dropdown can be selected at one time.
9. Once I determine the FAFSA completion rate of my high school, how can I compare it to other schools in my district?
Selecting the “District Name” drop down box on the landing page will allow you to view all the schools in your district’s bar charts stacked on top of one another. To select your district first unclick “All” at the top and then scroll to your district to select it.
10. I am asked to compare district FAFSA completion over the last three years. Can the First in FAFSA Tracker help me with historical data?
Due to the disruptive impacts of COVID-19, the First in FAFSA Tracker only shows current FAFSA completion and monthly completion rates over time. Data for the last two FAFSA cycles is available for download here.
11. How do I help a student determine what steps are missing in completing his/her specific FAFSA? Can I get to that assistance tool through the First in FAFSA Tracker?
The First in FAFSA Tracker does not have student-level data available. However, CFNC’s Finish the FAFSA, a password protected database report, does provide student-level information for authorized users. Authorized users are staff who work directly with seniors on FAFSA completion and college access.
For the Finish the FAFSA database report, North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority matches high school student enrollment data from NCDPI with US Department of Education FAFSA filing data to report student-level data regarding submissions, completions, errors, and those students selected for verification. 97% of public schools in North Carolina have the necessary data-use agreement to access Finish the FAFSA. If you have questions about whether your school has access and/or who at your school has access to Finish the FAFSA, please contact Outreach@ncseaa.edu
1. Does my school have to be registered to be eligible for a First in FAFSA Challenge grant?
Yes, your school must be registered to be eligible for a First in FAFSA Challenge grant. Registration for the Challenge will open in January 2021 and your lead school counselor should register your school no later than February 15, 2021. Grant award recipients will be announced in July/August 2021. For more information on the Challenge, please visit here.
2. What are other communities doing to support FAFSA completion?
We have been amazed and inspired by the creative approaches school counselors and college access professionals have implemented to support FAFSA completion. Listed below is a sampling of what we’ve learned from the field. To provide regular updates, share promising practices, resources, and learning opportunities, myFutureNC will send a monthly First in FAFSA newsletter to all superintendents, principals, and school counselors on the second Tuesday of each month. If you aren’t currently receiving the newsletter and would like to, please email: NCFirstinFAFSA@myfuturenc.org
FAFSA completion promising practices:
3. Where can I find resources to plan a FAFSA completion event in my school?
The success of FAFSA completion events relies heavily on schools and volunteers working together to organize an event to assist students and their families complete the FAFSA. Contact Outreach@ncseaa.edu to be connected to resources year round.
For specific events, reach out to your CFNC.org regional representative.
NC First in FAFSA is working with partners around the state to share practices and resources and tools. Check back here for updates. In the meantime, check out these resources for ideas:
Don’t forget to check out the NC First in FAFSA homepage for resources to support students and families.