Milwaukee's FAFSA Completion Project

Hi Friends,

On October 6, 2016 Mayor Tom Barrett, MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver, the FAFSA Completion Challenge team, leaders of institutions of higher education, and community partners launched our FAFSA Frenzy Community Challenge Kickoff and proclaimed October as “FAFSA Frenzy Kickoff Month.” Last year, Jonathan Dunn, manager of our post-secondary success work introduced us to The FASFA Completion Project and challenged each individual to help support by sharing FAFSA completion dates with our networks. This week Jonathan is here to share the statistics from the FAFSA Completion Challenge from last year. I’m pleased to say that the number of completions has increased, but we still have work to do! WE still need your help spreading the word so you and your organizations can advocate and move this effort forward.

Take it away, Jonathan!

See you soon,


"If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the highest return."- Ben Franklin

Every year, the federal government provides more than $150 billion in financial aid (grants, work-study, and loans) for college or career school. And yet too few of our seniors apply for this aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application not only gives students access to the federal aid, but it also connects students to state and institutional aid; and in the end, this aid allows students and families to find a better path toward college affordability and earning a degree.

The FAFSA Completion Project was a one-year initiative of Milwaukee Succeeds to support efforts to increase the rate of FAFSA completion among all enrolled seniors within thirty Milwaukee high schools. Efforts focused on removing barriers and embedding FAFSA completion into school culture through a three-pronged approach: support advocacy by the school level leadership, facilitate targeted professional development for school staff who interact with seniors, and build excitement around the initiative.

The Goal:

The community goal for the Class of 2017 was to increase FAFSA completion amongst all enrolled seniors in our pilot schools by 20 percentage points, from the baseline in June of 2015, to 60 percent. We worked across the K-12 educational ecosystems with public, charter, and choice high schools.

Overall, we have made significant progress towards our community wide goal. After 40 weeks into this cycle (The end of June is the commonly accepted benchmark for measurement as a proxy for graduation), our current completion rate for the pilot schools is at 57 percent, compared to an overall city rate of 59 percent, and a state rate of 58 percent (whereas in the past we have been far below).

Therefore, from when we stated this work (with a baseline of 40 percent from the 2015-16 FAFSA cycle), we have seen a growth for the pilot school of 17% percentage points compared to the state growth of only 8 percent. And, when you look at Wisconsin without Milwaukee data, the state grew only by 1 percentage point for a rate of 51 percent. Comparatively, the national FAFSA completion rate by high school seniors is 61% (which increased by 5 percentage point from last year).

Included below is an updated graph of FAFSA completion for pilot schools over time by month, where you can make many of the same observations. Additionally, the change in shape of this year’s line compared to previous years, indicates that the process of completion was accelerated, which in turn, allowed more students to have better access to state and institutional aid. We know students who file early receive on average more than twice the funding from federal, state and college sources as those who file later in the year. We also know from the research from the National College Access Network (NCAN), by completing the FAFSA form results in high school students being 63 percent more likely to enroll immediately in higher education than their peers who do not complete the FAFSA.

Early FAFSA and using prior-prior-taxes likely contributed to our success; and, this change happened because of the commitment and effort of community partners. Thank you for your time, effort, and collaborative spirit to make this possible. Thank you for acting; and, for putting our children, parents, and families first. Let’s continue to push forward to supporting all of our children and making postsecondary training/education affordable.


Jonathan Dunn

Goal 3 Manager
Milwaukee Succeeds

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