The number of Connecticut high school students who have submitted a key college financial aid form as decreased since last year. Connecticut Department of Education
The number of Connecticut high school students who have submitted a key college financial aid form as decreased since last year. Connecticut Department of Education

Connecticut’s Department of Education launched a financial aid data dashboard Tuesday that shows how many high school students have completed a key financial aid form.

The database will be updated weekly and shows how many students at each Connecticut high school have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The state’s largest and most diverse school districts — New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Waterbury — have less than 30% of financial aid applications completed so far this school year, according to the data.

The state hopes districts will be able use the data to find which students need more support with getting applications filed.

Students are encouraged to apply for FAFSA each year to be eligible for federal, and sometimes state, financial aid while attending college. The number of students who complete FAFSA can also be an indication for enrollment numbers at colleges and universities, since students are required to put the school they attend, or prospective schools, on the application.

“Now the real work begins as we uncover best practices, replicate strategies, and foster a renewed focus on college readiness – particularly for our students who need it most,” state Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “Our new dashboard will now provide school districts real-time data to identify areas of focus to support student success and their pursuit of a higher education experience.”

Connecticut saw a 16% decline in FAFSA completions at the beginning of the school year compared to last year. According to federal data through Nov. 27, just over 13,100 students in the state completed applications, or about 31% of the 2021 graduating class.

More students have applied for FAFSA since then, and this year’s applications are now running only about 9% behind last year’s. But still, students’ uncertainty about what higher education will be like during the COVID area is a key factor in the the decrease, school counselors have said.

In an effort to increase completion rates, Gov. Ned Lamont announced a statewide FAFSA challenge in December for districts to increase application completions this school year by at least 5% more than the class of 2020. Select districts will be eligible to win a grant to help them with FAFSA completion for the 2021-2022 school year.

The state announced Thursday that the districts eligible to win the grant are Ansonia, Bridgeport, Danbury, East Hartford, East Haven, Hartford, Meriden, Naugatuck, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwalk, Norwich Free Academy, Putnam, Waterbury and West Haven.

Eligible districts had FAFSA completion rates below 50% during the 2019-2020 school year, free and reduced lunch rates above 45% and a senior class larger than 50 students.

The four districts with the highest percentage-point growth will be awarded and recognized in September 2021, and two districts will receive a grant.

Adria was CT Mirror's Education and Community Reporter. She grew up in Oakland, graduated from Sacramento State where she was co-news editor of the student newspaper, and worked as a part-time reporter at CalMatters. Most recently Adria interned at The Marshall Project, a national nonprofit news organization that reports on criminal justice issues. Adria was one of CT Mirror’s Report For America Corps Members.

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