Understanding Intent to Enroll from FAFSA Completion Data

What do FAFSA completion rates tell us about a student’s likelihood to enroll?

As we progress into winter, college admissions letters are being sent out or will be soon. Students will start making their decision about where they will want to spend the next four years of their lives.

Throughout the application and admissions process, students and parents decide whether to complete the FAFSA, which could help them receive varying amounts of need-based aid from several different sources. The more that we understand our students, the more we can predict their behavior and how they will respond to certain stimuli.

That’s especially true when it comes to FAFSA completion rates.

Completing a FAFSA with your institution’s information serves three purposes:

  1. Gaining information about the student’s financial situation and capacity to receive outside funding;
  2. Determine how the institution can best help these students with institutionally controlled aid; and
  3. Proxy for interest

We all know what to do with the students who completed the FAFSA and how to use that data to assist in strategic decision making.

What about understanding the population that isn’t completing a FAFSA?

Not completing a FAFSA for your institution usually means a few different things:

  1. The student doesn’t need financial support (we hope it is this one)
  2. They may not be informed of benefits or process to file a FAFSA
  3. They are not really that interested in enrolling at your institution

A common goal in higher education is to increase FAFSA completion among the admitted student population because of the reasons stated above. This year, according to the National College Attainment Network, the number of high-school seniors who have filled out a FASFA for the next school year is down 16% from this time last year.

Especially in these challenging times, there are so many other areas that demand our attention. Needless to say, time and resources are not our friends.

So, how can you avoid a decline in FAFSA completion rates?

Use Advanced Analytics to Understand Who is Not Completing a FAFSA and Why

If you have an advanced analytics solution, there are data and insights that you can use to inform strategy, better understand the population not completing the FAFSA, and be more efficient.

By understanding Median Household Income (MHI), Likelihood to enroll, Likelihood to complete a FAFSA, and the impact of FAFSA completion for each student, you can effectively segment and target specific messaging and outreach to attract and engage your best-fit students.

Here’s how:

Segment 1: No Need for Financial Support - While we don’t have the FAFSA data and Estimated Financial Contribution (EFC) for this group of students, with an advanced analytics solution, we can use census data to better understand who may not need financial support.

If we append MHI data down to the neighborhood level, we can set a threshold for MHI to determine the no/low need student population.

We can pretty quickly eliminate this population from the group that we want to target for FAFSA completion and can target other strategic outreach to this population to increase low financial need enrollment.

Segment 2: May not be informed of FAFSA benefits - Using a similar approach to the “no financial need” example, we use census data to set the threshold of MHI to determine the high need population. To be even more targeted, we now utilize some additional data points to only include first-generation or underserved populations.

Understanding these groups, we can focus on those students who may not be informed of the benefits or process to file a FAFSA.

Segment 3: No interest in your institution - How do we eliminate students who aren’t really interested in enrolling at your institution?

With an advanced analytics solution, we can understand if a student is not interested and not likely to enroll based on numerous data attributes. For example, students who apply through a lower yielding application and have limited or no engagement with an institution may be less likely to ever complete a FAFSA and, ultimately, be unlikely to enroll. The institution's data, and the intersection of all these data points for each individual, can guide who to help and focus on.

With this understanding, we can remove the population who is least likely to enroll and focus on the middle and high likelihood to enroll students.

Efficiently Increasing FAFSA Completion Rates at Your Institution

Now that we’ve determined the two groups to focus on to drive FAFSA completion, let’s take that one step further to ensure we’re placing the effort and resources efficiently.

What if we knew who, from this population, was most likely to complete a FAFSA and who would see the largest increase in their likelihood to enroll from FAFSA completion?

We’ve effectively taken a non-FAFSA filing population that could be many thousands and targeted, with pinpoint accuracy, the student population that would gain the most from completing it while saving time and resources.

If you’re interested in learning more about this approach to increase FAFSA completion at your institution, please contact us at othotteam@othot.com.

By Chris Rose | November 20, 2020