NECC and Local High Schools Address Decline in FAFSA Applications
The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have led to a concerning decrease in the number of families completing higher education financial applications and those decreases are even more pronounced in high schools that serve minority and low-income student populations.
In Massachusetts this year, FAFSA application completion rates were down 18 percent overall and 25 percent at the 50 Massachusetts high schools with the largest populations of minority and low-income students, according to statistics released in December by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education.
“What’s most concerning about this is that it’s affecting students disproportionately,” said Lane Glenn, president of Northern Essex Community College, with campuses in Haverhill and Lawrence, MA. “My fear is that we are going to lose the students who have the most to benefit from continuing their education.”
When President Glenn learned about this trend, he asked the college’s Student Affairs team to reach out to local high schools and find out how the college could help address the issue.
High Schools Welcome Support from NECC
What the college discovered is that most local high schools were already concerned about FAFSA completion trends.
“They were surprised we were thinking about this and welcomed the help,” said Monze Stark, NECC’s director of admission.
At Haverhill High School, for example, FAFSA completion rates were remaining steady in general, but sub-groups, such as students with disabilities and student of color, were completing at much lower rates.
“We were concerned about the inequities, and trying to create programming to help families complete the FAFSA,” said Jami Dion, supervisor of school counseling K-12, Haverhill Public Schools.
“When Northern Essex reached out, we were trying to handle this internally. It was so helpful to be able to partner with the college since they have so much expertise in this area.”
Coming Up with a Solution
According to Dion, some families don’t apply for financial aid because they are intimidated by the process. The goal was to create programming that would engage families who hadn’t yet completed, making them aware of the benefits of applying for financial aid and giving them hands-on help with completing the application.
In partnership with Haverhill High School, Northern Essex will offer a FAFSA Information Session on Feb. 25, open to all Haverhill families, followed by March 4 and 25 workshops in which help will be offered in completing the FAFSA form. Northern Essex financial aid counselors will lead the programs and Haverhill High School will recruit families, with targeted outreach to families who haven’t yet complete the form.
This is the first time Haverhill has had such “an organized, systematic approach” to educating families about the FAFSA, said Dion. “We really want to move the needle on the FAFSA completion rates for our students so they know a college education is within reach.”
Northern Essex has set up similar programs with Greater Lawrence Technical School (Feb. 3 and 10), Amesbury High School (Feb. 11), Lawrence High School (March 2, 9 and 29), and Methuen High School (March 2 and 16) and is currently working with Triton Regional High School and Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School to schedule programs.
NECC has Financial Aid Expertise
At Northern Essex, 65 percent of students receive financial aid, and all incoming students are encouraged to apply, even if they don’t think they will qualify. “We base the grants and scholarships we give out on the information included in the FAFSA. Even if you aren’t eligible for federal aid, you can get support from other sources as a result of completing the FAFSA,” said Stark.
Once a student is enrolled, they are paired with a financial aid counselor, who will be with them throughout their time at Northern Essex.
For more information, contact Stark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Northern Essex Community College has campuses in both Haverhill and Lawrence. It offers approximately 60 associate degree and certificate programs as well as hundreds of noncredit courses designed for personal enrichment and career growth. Each year, 6,000 students are enrolled in credit associate degree and certificate programs on the Haverhill and Lawrence campuses; and another 2,000 take noncredit workforce development and community education classes on campus, and at businesses and community sites across the Merrimack Valley. For more information, visit the website at www.necc.mass.edu or call 978-556-3700.