Marysville-Pilchuck High School’s Class of 2019 graduated June 12 at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett. (Kevin Clark / Herald file photo)

Marysville-Pilchuck High School’s Class of 2019 graduated June 12 at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett. (Kevin Clark / Herald file photo)

Editorial: Too many grads leaving financial aid untouched

About half of high school graduates fail each year to complete the federal financial aid form.

By The Herald Editorial Board

It’s not too late. But it’s getting close.

High school graduates, whether they’re still working on “thank you” notes for graduation gifts from family and friends or already have them in the mail, may have one more task ahead that must be completed by Sunday night. About half of graduates in Washington state are about to leave much more money on the table than the $50 check from their aunt and uncle.

Of the 77,752 graduating seniors in Washington state, only 38,649 — nearly half — have successfully submitted their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), according to the Washington Student Achievement Council. Another 1,500 have submitted applications but need to correct errors. That leaves about 48 percent eligible who have not submitted the federal financial aid application that is the front door to most financial aid for colleges, universities and other training opportunities.

And there isn’t much time left. The deadline to submit a FAFSA to studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa is 9:59 p.m. Sunday, June 30.

In recent years, Washington state students who have missed that deadline have essentially walked away from more than $50 million in Pell Grants for which they were otherwise eligible. Of Snohomish County’s 2,292 students in 2017, 1,115 — 49 percent — failed to apply, leaving untouched $5 million in Pell Grants, according to the achievement council.

For the 2018-19 school year, tracking by the council shows varying rates of FAFSA completion among the county’s school districts and high schools.

Of Everett School District graduates about 54 percent completed applications, with Jackson High School leading among the four high school programs at 64 percent. Nearly 50 percent of Edmonds School District graduates have applied, with nearly 59 percent from Edmonds Woodway. Snohomish School District is also close to the 50 percent mark, with 60 percent of Glacier Peak graduates applying. While for Marysville School District, only 31 percent have applied, with 40 percent of Marysville Getchell graduates applying.

Washington state ranks among the bottom 10 states for percentage of students who fill out the financial aid application, but the achievement council notes recent efforts by the Everett, Klickitat and Spokane school districts in increasing application rates.

In a report from earlier in the year, the council specifically noted Everett Public School’s coordinated efforts to increase graduation rates and FAFSA applications, including participation in a 2012 pilot study.

Taking the step of applying for financial aid may have helped spur students on to graduate and apply for college or other training after high school.

“If kids completed the FAFSA, what would happen were all these magical things — well, not magical — but they were correlated: High school graduation and post-secondary enrollment both increased, as well as persistence and completion,” Jeanne Willard, Everett schools’ director of college and career readiness and on-time graduation, told the council.

The result for Everett schools was an on-time graduation rate of nearly 96 percent for the 2017-18 school year, compared to the 81 percent statewide rate. And, since 2016, about 65 percent of the district’s graduates have gone on to enroll in post-secondary education.

The council’s report identified three reasons why so many eligible students are leaving money untouched: unfamiliarity with the financial aid available, belief that they weren’t eligible for aid and finding the application process too complicated.

The FAFSA website offers help with navigating the application process, as does the Washington Student Achievement Council at portal.wsac.wa.gov/, where students and parents can find links to a portal that allows tracking of the FAFSA process and the College Bound Scholarship.

Students should understand that failing to complete some level of post-secondary education, including training certification and apprenticeships for building trades, health care and other fields, are a necessity for careers that pay well. During the next five years, more than 70 percent of jobs in the state will require some level of post-secondary education.

A high school diploma is no longer enough.

Students also shouldn’t assume that such scholarships are only for those considering four-year degree programs at colleges and universities. Financial aid is also for those seeking two-year degrees, certificates and apprenticeships as well as education and training in STEM, trades and health care fields.

The Washington State Opportunity Scholarship program’s Career and Technical Scholarship, offers $1,500-a-quarter scholarships at the state’s 34 community and technical colleges. Recently the state Legislature broadened program eligibility to include trade occupations such as carpentry, automotive technology and machine maintenance as well as nursing and information technology programs.

The Opportunity scholarships are flexible and can be used for tuition, fees and living expenses. With financial assistance from Boeing and the Rubens Family Foundation, the program will support at least 500 Career and Technical Scholarships for the next 10 years.

But, as with the FAFSA, the deadline is nearing. Applications for the winter quarter 2019 and spring quarter 2020 CTS must be completed by 11:59 p.m. July 12.

The state Legislature made a significant commitment to making college and post-secondary training more attainable and affordable for thousands of students seeking further education needed for a range of careers, including creation of the Washington College Grant program that will allow as many as 110,000 lower- and middle-income students to attend any eligible post-secondary institution in the state for free or at significantly reduced costs.

But, unlike that check from an aunt and uncle, students have to ask for it.

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