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Not enough students filing for financial aid in Arizona

The latest numbers show about 37% of high school seniors in Arizona have filled out the application to see if they qualify for federal student aid.

ARIZONA, USA — Nearly last in the nation isn’t a place Arizona Board of Regents Chair-Elect Fred DuVal wants Arizona to be.

“Arizona is 49th in the country in the percentage of our high school students who fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form and make themselves eligible for financial aid,” DuVal said.

Latest numbers show about 37% of high school seniors in Arizona have filled out the application to see if they qualify for federal student aid.

DuVal said Arizona students are missing out on $100 million in Pell Grants, believing the biggest reason is the lack of school counselors in the state.

“Counseling is the key and so that drove us to create Arizona College Connect because it’s a tool where the counselors can then make their time more effectively utilized,” DuVal said.

Arizona College Connect is a program school counselors can access to see which students haven’t filled out FAFSA at their school.

“We've seen an uptick in the FAFSA completion rate by 5.4% since the program started, so seems to be working, but we've got a long way to go,” DuVal said.

Aja DeZeeuw has been a school counselor in Arizona for seven years and serves on the Arizona School Counselors Association Board of Directors. She sees the program as a help for school counselors to help students.

“We want to serve everybody - and that's our goal. So, it makes it really hard when you have a high ratio to be able to not just be putting out fires all the time and seeing the kids that have the greatest need,” DeZeeuw said.

The latest stats from the American School Counselor Association find Arizona has a student-to-school counselor ratio of 716 to 1, the worst in the nation. The organization recommends a ratio of 250 to 1.

DeZeeuw adding Arizona doesn’t have a law requiring a certain ratio of school counselors.

“What we are doing as school counselors is really teaching professional skills, we’re teaching coping skills, we’re teaching communication, we’re teaching students how to resolve conflict,” DeZeeuw said. “Those types of things that are necessary for them to be amazing adults.”

Students who do fill out FAFSA are 84% more likely to enroll in postsecondary education, according to the National College Attainment Network.

DeZeeuw remembers when she joined Globe High School as their first school counselor in several years, she was able to help raise FAFSA completion rates by 60%. Noting any extra resources, like Arizona College Connect, or other educators passionate about helping provide opportunities for students can help, as getting students to succeed is the goal.

“We're not as school counselors trying to do it all, but just to have somebody to kind of coordinate and really kind of make it a more of a priority on the campus as a whole, I think is really, really important. And that's something that school counselors can absolutely do,” DeZeeuw said.

While the program has seen an increase in completed FAFSAs, DuVal is hoping the program will help close the gap, to at the very least, reach Arizona to the national average, leading to more students going onto post-secondary education. Noting, Arizona is a relatively poor state.

“Our ability to compete requires a more educated workforce, getting a more educated workforce requires more people coming in our gates,” DuVal said. “And in order to do that, more need to fill out FAFSA,” DuVal said.

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