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Bruecker explains ‘Wisconsin’s got some work to do’ in bolstering FAFSA completion rates

October 10, 2018

USA Today Network-Wisconsin recently posted a report explaining how large numbers of high school seniors across Wisconsin are missing a chance for college aid by not filling out the federal government’s free application for financial aid, or FAFSA, form.

There are more than 100 high schools across the state, according to the report, where “most seniors had not filled out the form in the last application cycle, meaning thousands of students may have missed out on discounts for college and believed they couldn't afford higher education, according to a new USA Today Network -Wisconsin analysis of state and federal data.”

Ellie Bruecker
Bruecker
Among the experts the newspaper chain utilized in putting this topic in perspective is UW-Madison’s Ellie Bruecker. She studies FAFSA completion rates and is a doctoral student with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.

The report notes how “Louisiana led the nation during the last cycle with a 77 percent completion rate. The state last year began requiring high school graduates to complete the FAFSA or a state financial aid application, or they had to obtain a waiver. Sydni Dunn, a spokeswoman for Louisiana's state education agency, said the push to improve FAFSA completion rates stemmed from concerns that eligible families were leaving millions of dollars on the table every year.”

In Wisconsin, the report adds, researchers have raised similar concerns by showing that schools with more low-income families tend to produce lower FAFSA completion rates. But there hasn't been much movement in Wisconsin's numbers.

"Wisconsin's got some work to do,"Bruecker tells the newspaper.

The report goes on to explain how a group of UW-Madison researchers in 2016 studied FAFSA completion rates across Wisconsin and found that schools with more low-income students or more racial minorities tended to have lower completion rates. They also found that schools with more counselors per student tended to produce higher FAFSA complete rates, which supports the idea that staff levels play a critical role in helping families access college financial aid.

Bruecker, one of the study's authors, has continued tracking FAFSA completion rates in the state as part of her doctoral research and notes not much has changed since 2016.

"We’ve tracked completion last year and this year, but the patterns we noted in the (study) are pretty consistent," she said. "We really haven't done anything to close the gaps in socioeconomic and race."

To learn more, check out the entire USA Today Network-Wisconsin report for free on this web page.

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