FAFSA launches new mobile application

State and federal agencies are aiming to increase FAFSA completions

As the opening of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid draws closer, state and federal agencies are preparing to make the laborious process faster and more convenient than ever before. 

The application, which used to take over an hour to complete, is now going mobile — with an app expected to launch Oct. 1.

Clare McCann, the deputy director for federal higher education policy at New America, a non-partisan think tank, said the app would help cut down time and could give access to people who traditionally face problems accessing the app. 

"I think that this huge step in the right direction in terms of just making it that much simpler so that people aren't leaving money on the table, so that they're accessing the aide that was put there for them by Congress," McCann said.

McCann said that the app was especially helpful for students who don't have regular access to a computer and students who primarily access the internet through their mobile phone.

The app is the latest in a number of updates implemented to FAFSA over the past several years, but large amounts of money allocated by Congress for student aid still go unclaimed. According to McCann, the app could help resolve that problem too. 

“Research (shows) that students are leaving some money on the table ... the biggest reason for that is that they think they're not going to be eligible to receive the money,” McCann said. “And so one of the ways you can get around that ... is to make the application easier so that the burden of doing it is lower. I think there's maybe a little bit too much of a hurdle for it to be worth it for the people who think they're not going to be eligible anyway.”

In 2018, Arizona settled in the bottom three of the nation in FAFSA completion numbers.

These numbers have spurred the launch of a new initiative between education advocates, the Helios Education Foundation and Achieve60AZ, called the FAFSA Challenge AZ

Part of the initiative was the launch of the FAFSA Challenge website, which is headed by the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education and aims to spur competition between high school counselors, teachers and students while giving researchers and academics a valuable tool to study the number of FAFSA completion statistics in real time.

The FAFSA Dashboard and FAFSA Challenge website, which launched Friday, are aimed at increasing the number of completed applications.

Steve Seleznow, the president and CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation spoke of the sobering numbers at the launch. 

“There are facts that suggest we pick up our pace, dig deeper, work harder, develop more will, fund better to get all of us, and I mean all of us, not just our young people to a better place,” Seleznow said. “But we must look at them, and we must find a way to move forward from those facts. Frankly, if we were to think about one reform that’s most easy to implement, its around FAFSA.”

Two ASU students spoke at the launch, sharing how the application had impacted their lives. 

Esperanza Ayala, a sophomore at ASU studying social work, spoke about the lessons FAFSA could teach. 

“It impacted me because a lot of scholarships want to know if you have filed your FAFSA," Ayala said. "They want to know how much they are giving you and when you filed it by. They have very strict deadlines. I was fortunate enough to be offered the Obama Scholarship from ASU, and they have a very tight deadline.”

Prince Murray, a political science junior from Liberia, said for him, FAFSA was a blessing. 

“I am from a country where if you don’t have money, you can’t go to school, but now I live in a country where I am getting economic opportunity," Murray said. "It helps a lot."

Gov. Doug Ducey recorded a statement that was played at the launch. Ducey launched the Achieve60AZ initiative with the goal of bringing a degree or certificate in the hands of 60 percent of Arizona’s working adults by 2030.

“Filling out a FAFSA lets students and their families know what federal money is available to fund post-secondary education including grants, scholarships, on-campus jobs, student loans and more,” he said. 

Reach the reporter at isaac.windes@asu.edu or follow @isaacdwindes on Twitter.

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