High school seniors in Fresno are more likely than their peers across the country to apply for financial aid opportunities for college.
While that may seem obvious, since Fresno is among the poorest cities in the country, a new report released by the National College Access Network found that Free Application for Federal Student Aid completion rates are not tied to a city’s poverty rates. The report calls on districts to replicate Fresno Unified’s outreach efforts, calling them “exemplar.”
In 2015, 60 percent of high school seniors living in Fresno completed the FAFSA process, while the national average was 44 percent, according to the report. The report ranks Fresno as having the fifth-highest completion rate out of nearly 70 urban school systems analyzed.
“Students are leaving billions of dollars of federal, state, and institutional aid on the table each year because we don’t ensure that they fill out the FAFSA in a timely way,” the report says. “This situation leads to lower college enrollment, persistence and completion, especially for low-income students.”
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The numbers are much higher for Fresno Unified’s college applicants: Nearly 94 percent of those students completed the FAFSA process last school year. In the past five years, the number of college-going applicants who submitted their FAFSA increased by nearly 30 percent.
The school district attributes an increase in FAFSA submissions in recent years to the “persistent diligence” of school counselors, and workshops that take parents and students through the often complicated process of applying for federal and state financial aid.
“We know which seniors have not applied for FAFSA, and we make sure to connect with them,” said Christina Espinosa, director of college and career readiness for FUSD. “This is just a result of coordinating and sharing the data with our counselors, and being very targeted and supporting each student.”
In October, the district announced a new initiative to send seniors home with individualized packets about what colleges they are eligible to apply to, in addition to financial aid services and other resources.