Three years ago this month, the Consortium on Chicago School Research (a partner organization of the National High School Center) released a report that identified a relatively simple approach to increasing college-going rates among Chicago Public Schools (CPS) high school graduates. In From High School to the Future: Potholes on the Road to College, Consortium researchers found that CPS graduates who aspired to complete a four-year degree did not effectively participate in the college application process. Specifically, they found that applying for financial aid (Free Application for Federal Student Aid—FAFSA) and applying to multiple colleges increased CPS students’ likelihood of being accepted to and enrolling in a four-year college. As a result of these findings, CPS instituted a new FAFSA tracking system and sends out school-by-school progress reports.
Beyond Chicago, the findings from the Consortium report have begun to shape federal, as well as districts’ and schools’, college-going supports for high school students. For example, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has simplified the FAFSA application process (e.g., cutting out unnecessary questions, incorporating skip logic, and allowing applicants to populate their online application with IRS data). According to ED’s estimates: students today are taking just over a half-hour to complete the online FASFA—an overall reduction of five million hours—and more than a quarter million applicants have used the IRS data retrieval tool on the FAFSA form just since last January.
In addition, ED has launched a 20-site FAFSA Completion Pilot—sites include Austin ISD, Fresno Unified School District, and Muscogee County School District (Georgia). At the pilot sites, secondary schools and school districts will obtain real-time access to data on FAFSA completion so they can monitor and work to improve FAFSA completion among their high school students.