District-Based FAFSA Inequities

Posted by National College Access Network on April 24, 2017

New NCAN Report Shows District-Based FAFSA Inequities

In most states, high school seniors in higher-poverty school districts complete the FAFSA at lower rates than students in wealthier districts. To someone not familiar with the inequities of higher education, this sounds counter-intuitive. However, new research demonstrates that is not the case.

For every 10-percentage-point increase in the proportion of children living in poverty, a school district’s FAFSA completion rate declines by about 3 percentage points, according to research published by NCAN and conducted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Lindsay Page, Danielle J. Lowry and Aizat Nurshatayeva. In most states, having a higher level of poverty in a district actually suppresses FAFSA completion. The researchers observed this trend both across and within states.

Completing the FAFSA is the best predictor that a student will continue her education; therefore, the more students who complete the FAFSA at a high school, the better. Lower-income districts have more poor students who need higher amounts of aid; thus, those districts should have higher FAFSA completion rates. Yet the opposite is true, demonstrating that low-income students are still facing barriers in accessing financial aid for college.

Where do the individual states stand in terms of FAFSA completion? It varies dramatically. Only four states – California, Minnesota, Nevada, and New Hampshire – are successful in overall FAFSA completion and in closing equity gaps. These states have above-average FAFSA completion rates in school districts at the median poverty level, and also do not show a gap in the rate of FAFSA completion between lower- and higher-poverty districts. (NCAN is planning additional qualitative research to determine why these states do well.)

Read more to find out where you state districts stand.


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