A new policy brief from the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE) examines FAFSA filing rates at public and private high schools across Wisconsin and exposes significant differences in filing rates based on school characteristics.
The brief, titled "FAFSA Filing Rates at Wisconsin High Schools," was authored by UW-Madison's Nicholas Hillman, Ellie Bruecker, and Valerie Crespín-Trujillo. It finds that schools serving more low-income students and students of color have lower filing rates than higher-income schools and those serving predominantly white or Asian students.
In addition, schools that score better on measures of college readiness have higher filing rates, as do schools with lower student-to-counselor ratios.
The brief also examines the impact of recent policy changes aimed at simplifying FAFSA filing for students. These changes -- so called "Early FAFSA," which allows students to file the form starting Oct. 1 of their senior year, and the ability to use previous-year tax records -- thus far seem to be boosting filing rates statewide, though more research will be needed to evaluate their full effects.
The authors conclude with recommendations to improve overall filing rates and help equalize filing rates across schools. These include expanding counseling efforts, adopting text-messaging campaigns, and engaging with community partners to encourage completion. "By improving filing rates," they explain, "Wisconsin students will leave less money on the table and improve their chances of success in college."
The authors also recommend that colleges and universities set aside funds for late filers and maximize aid packages for the neediest students.
Hillman is an associate professor with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, and a WISCAPE faculty affiliate. Bruecker and Crespín-Trujillo are Ph.D. students with the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.
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