Kentucky’s FAFSA Completion Rate is Lagging Prior Year – Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Kentucky’s FAFSA Completion Rate is Lagging Prior Year

According to the most recent Kentucky High School Feedback Reports produced by KY STATS, the statewide rate for public high school graduates in 2019 to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) was 70%.

Moreover, Kentucky has consistently been above average nationally for FAFSA completion. According to data from the National College Access Network, Kentucky ranked 12th nationally for completions in the 2020-2021 cycle with 66.3% of high school seniors completing the FAFSA.  Currently we rank 7th nationally for completions for the 2021-2022 cycle with 40.2% of high school seniors completing the FAFSA through January – but this is down 19% compared to the same time last year.  While we remain ahead of the overall national rate of 35.2% currently, our year-to-year decline is larger than the national drop of 10%.

The U.S. Department of Education has a data tool that allows students, families and school administrators to track in real time the FAFSA completions in their high schools and school districts.  Below is the completion rate map for Kentucky for the 2021-2022 FAFSA cycle.  This tool can help inform school and community leaders about how their outreach efforts are succeeding.

Why Don’t Students Fill Out FAFSA?

According to research from the National Center for Education Statistics, there are a number of reasons why students and their families may not complete the FAFSA.  As seen in the table below, these reasons ranged from lack of information to concerns about affordability.

This same research shows variations in reasons for not completing by level of parental education, race, and socioeconomic status.  Some highlights from overall findings also include:

  • Larger percentages of White and Hispanic students did not complete (25%) compared to Black students (19%)
  • A larger percentage of students in the lowest socioeconomic quintile (29 percent) did not complete the FAFSA compared to students in the middle three-fifths and in the highest fifth of SES (23 and 22 percent, respectively)

What are Current Efforts to Encourage FAFSA Completion in Kentucky?

There are a number of resources available to help guide students and their families through the FAFSA process from Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA) and the U.S. Department of Education.

KHEAA maintains a comprehensive outreach program to support students in understanding how to go and pay for college.  This includes 13 statewide outreach counselors and an additional 30 college coachers serving in high-need high schools.   Also, the KnowHowToGoKY website provides a comprehensive step-by-step guide for students and families to navigate through their postsecondary options.

Additionally, many school districts employ college & career readiness coaches as part of their counseling programs.  Districts also often host FAFSA completion events to encourage and support students and families in completing.

Why is the FAFSA Important?

The FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – is the gateway to financial aid for most students pursuing postsecondary education. This includes federal aid such as student loans and Pell grants, need-based state aid administered by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA), and a variety of assistance provided directly by postsecondary institutions.

With  significant reliance on debt to cover college costs, it is more important than ever for students and families to complete the FAFSA to access financial aid that will assist in making postsecondary education more affordable.

FAFSA completion is a significant indicator of postsecondary enrollment.  Plus, those who do not miss out on the opportunity to access a more affordable postsecondary education.  According to one recent analysis, Kentucky students potentially miss out on over $30 million in federal Pell grants by not completing the FAFSA – grants worth up to $6,345 annually per student.

Critically, Kentucky has seen an overall decline in its in-state college going rate as well as for student groups – including low-income, black, and Hispanic students.  This should be a call to action for policy makers, campuses, and communities to expend every effort to ensure students are aware of the opportunities they have to pursue postsecondary education.

In Kentucky, the main need-based, state-financial aid programs require a FAFSA and are funded on a first-come, first-serve basis.

  • The College Access Program (CAP) provides up to $2,000 annually for undergraduate students to attend eligible public and private colleges and universities, proprietary schools and technical colleges.
  • The Kentucky Tuition Grant (KTG)provides up to $3,000 annually for aid to help Kentucky residents attend in-state eligible private colleges.
  • The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program (WRKS) provides “last dollar” financial assistance after other federal and state aid is applied up to the equivalent of in-state tuition and fees at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. This program provides aid for postsecondary students seeking an industry recognized certificate, diploma, or Associate of Applied Science degree in a high-demand workforce sector.