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The FAFSA Opens Today

October 1st, 2020

By: AzCAN

One of the greatest tools in reducing the financial barriers to accessing postsecondary education is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which opens today.

Yesterday the Arizona College Access Network (AzCAN) and Arizona Department of Education (ADE) hosted an event to kick-off the new FAFSA season.

At the kick-off, the 2020-2021 Arizona FAF$A Challenge completion rate goal of 52 percent was also announced.

“The FAFSA is one of the most important applications students will complete in their senior year,” said FAF$A Challenge Project Manager Julie Sainz. “This ambitious, yet attainable, goal will serve as a milestone so that Arizona can make progress towards its long-time goal of reaching a 78 percent FAFSA completion rate by the year 2030.”

Alongside the new goal, the Arizona FAF$A Challenge website recently launched new tools to help education professionals follow the progress of this year’s goal. The tools include:

  • A page with the estimated Pell Grant total amount available to students in the state;
  • Benchmarks that indicate the amount of FAFSA needed for each county and partner high schools;
  • Updated FAFSA completion rate timelines for each partner school; and
  • FAFSA network graphs that identify statewide FAFSA outreach programs and their associated high schools.

“FAFSA completion is strongly associated with postsecondary enrollment. According to the National College Attainment Network, 90 percent of Arizona seniors who complete a FAFSA attend college directly from high school compared to just 55 percent of non-FAFSA completers,” said ADE Postsecondary Coordinator Andrea Glenn. “We know the work to achieving the Achieve60AZ goal starts here and starts with us. Helping Arizona students and families understand the why behind completing their FAFSA application is a good place to begin.”

“The FAFSA is one of those tools that greatly reduces the financial barriers to accessing college… but we know the FAFSA can be intimidating for students and families to use,” Arizona Superintendent Kathy Hoffman said during the event. “This year, with the many more challenges presented by COVID-19, a network of support for students is even more important than ever.”

Over the last several years, Arizona has made significant strides in helping more of its students complete the FAFSA. These strides include increased focus from college access professionals, the creation of the Arizona FAF$A Challenge as well as FAFSA chatbot Project Benjamin.

Also known as Ask Benji, Project Benjamin’s chatbot uses artificial intelligence to answer students’ questions regarding the FAFSA application. In just one year, the bot has been implemented in 21 school districts (122 schools) across Arizona and has sent out almost 500,000 answers and reminder texts. Benji can respond to more than 800 topics and reply in more than 109 languages making it the perfect tool for students in the age of social distancing.

“Now more than ever before this work matters, it’s important and it can shape the entire direction of students’ lives… Even during a global pandemic, a crisis that turned all our worlds upside down, you all found a way to serve students and make sure they knew about the FAFSA,” said Arizona Education Policy Advisor Kaitlin Harrier. “To meet our goal of 52 percent completion it’s going to take all of us and then some, but I know we can do it… It’s key to meeting our Achieve60 goal, it’s key to the future of our state and rebuilding it stronger than ever.”

While Arizona Governor Doug Ducey could not attend the event, he sent a video acknowledging the important role the FAFSA plays in Arizona’s future.

“In Arizona we’re focused on inspiring more of our students to achieve a postsecondary degree,” he said. “Since 2018 more students and families are completing their FAFSAs to be eligible for federal student aid… I encourage all our high school students and families to get involved in this year’s FAFSA challenge. Working together we can set the next generation of Arizonans on the path to success.”

The earlier a student completes the FAFSA, the more money they are eligible to receive. To fill out the form, click here.

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