June 9, 2011

Jefferson City - A new report compiled from data collected by the Missouri Departments of Education and Higher Education shows the rates at which twelfth graders around the state are preparing for college by filing applications for student financial aid.

To be eligible for financial aid, students must file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. This is the first time the two agencies have merged data to create a map showing areas of the state where twelfth graders have filed FAFSAs.

"One of our goals as an agency is to help students overcome the obstacles that might prevent them from enrolling in and graduating from college," said Leroy Wade, assistant commissioner for financial aid (MDHE). "Student financial aid is available from a variety of programs. The first step for almost all of them is to file a FAFSA."

Research shows that students who complete a FAFSA by May and are accepted into a four-year college are more than 50 percent more likely to enroll in college than students who did not complete a FAFSA. Nationally, more than 1.7 million students fail to apply for student aid each year because they think they will be ineligible.

"We want students to not only plan and prepare academically for continuing their education and training beyond high school, but to complete the FAFSA to ensure financial support can be accessed when needed," said Leigh Ann Grant-Engle, assistant commissioner of data system management (DESE).

"FAFSA Frenzy" events held around the state encourage students to file by April 1 to be considered for the state's primary need-based financial aid program, Access Missouri. The U.S. Department of Education also uses FAFSA information to determine eligibility for Pell Grants, and colleges and universities use FAFSA results to award need-based grants and scholarships.

Missouri officials collect the filing data to estimate how many people will be eligible for state financial aid and to determine potential award amounts. Wade says it is still too early to say what award amounts will be for the coming academic year, but the map helps identify pockets of the state where financial aid applications are high, and areas where they are low.

The number of students in Missouri eligible for need-based financial aid has increased 15 to 20 percent each year since 2003.

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