When the Delaware Data Innovation Lab (DDIL) launched its FAFSA dashboard with partner TeenSHARP, they were curious to see if less college counseling due to the impact of COVID-19 would lead to a drop in applications for federal college aid.
The CARES Act-funded data project is one of six focused on COVID-19 relief through DDIL. The data collected by the dashboard has confirmed TeenSHARP’s fears: Fewer Delaware high school seniors have completed the FAFSA application compared to this time last year.
The FAFSA (aka Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application, which opens every October for the school year beginning the following fall, is a requirement to receive federal college funding like the Pell Grant, funds that don’t need to be repaid and in some cases can cover a low-income student’s tuition. Filling out the online forms is extremely important for college-bound students, especially those from low-income families.
Some of the issue in the midst of COVID-19 may not necessarily be a total lack of knowledge of FAFSA, but concern that college is completely off the table due to financial hardship, even though grants are still available.
The data, pulled together from public sources, is highly accessible on the dashboard, where users can compare application rates between schools and filter the results by the percentage of low-income, Black and Latino students.
“It’s critical that we’re all able to see how students are progressing with FAFSA completion so that we can support families,” said Atnre Alleyne, cofounder of TeenSHARP, which prepares Black, Latino and low-income students for colleges and community-centered leadership, in a statement.
On Friday, Feb. 26, from noon to 1 p.m., the DDIL will hold a free Zoom webinar for the public to showcase the Delaware FAFSA Dashboard. Parents and high school students are encouraged to use the tool, which offers resources for high school seniors looking to edit applications or receive help with starting one.
“We want to help Delawareans make better — and informed — decisions using data, both during the pandemic and in the future,” said Ryan Harrington, the lead data scientist for the DDIL. “By tracking FAFSA completion rates and sharing them on an easy-to-use platform, we can help parents and students think ahead during the pandemic.”
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