Chiefs for Change Partners with Former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to Boost FAFSA Completions Amid COVID-19

Chiefs for Change and Data Insight Partners today announced they are partnering with former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to encourage more high school seniors to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The announcement comes as a new Data Insight Partners analysis of the latest data from the U.S. Department of Education shows a nationwide drop in the percentage of students who have completed the FAFSA since schools closed due to the coronavirus. Across the country, Class of 2020 FAFSA completions are down 2.6 percent compared to FAFSA completions for the Class of 2019 at this time last year. According to Data Insight Partners, the decrease translates to 51,000 fewer students submitting the FAFSA and approximately $105 million in unallocated Pell grants.

Since December 2019, Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of state and district education leaders, has been collaborating with Data Insight Partners, an education data consulting firm, on the FAFSA Fast Break competition.

Studies have shown that students who complete the FAFSA are more likely to enroll in college and earn a degree. Based on the idea that a fast break can change the game in basketball and the FAFSA can do the same in life, 20 districts led by members of Chiefs for Change are competing to see which one can get the greatest percentage of seniors to fill out the form. Duncan was a professional basketball player in Australia prior to his leadership in education. In this video produced by Chiefs for Change, he appears in a virtual sports studio and explains how the FAFSA can open a world of opportunity to students.

“In this uncertain time, it is more important than ever for students to submit the FAFSA so they can get the financial aid they need for college,” Duncan said. “For so many students, completing the form is an important step on the path to pursuing their dreams. Across the nation, families are struggling to cope with the pandemic, but we cannot allow this crisis to derail students’ educational progress. The FAFSA Fast Break and the work that districts led by members of Chiefs for Change are doing to provide remote college advising will help seniors stay on track to creating the future they want for themselves.”

In the FAFSA Fast Break, Chiefs for Change tracks member districts’ FAFSA completion data using a digital platform built by Data Insight Partners. The platform downloads publicly available, privacy-protected FAFSA completion and school enrollment data from the U.S. Department of Education website, allowing schools and districts to easily view their progress and see how they stack up against others.

“Many families are facing new financial hardships because of COVID-19,” said Sharon Contreras, a member of Chiefs for Change and the superintendent of Guilford County Schools in North Carolina. “We have heard from students whose parents have lost their jobs in the economic downturn that has occurred since students filed their FAFSA. In these instances, our team is telling families to immediately contact the college or university their child plans to attend and request a change to the financial aid package and what the family is expected to pay.”

The FAFSA Fast Break runs through the FAFSA submission deadline of June 30 and is an extension of the overall Chiefs for Change effort to promote reliable and affordable postsecondary pathways for all students.

“With schools closed, districts are finding new ways to connect with students and help them plan for college,” said Chiefs for Change Chief External Affairs Officer Leila Walsh. “There are a number of different approaches—from calling students and reminding them to fill out their FAFSA, to creating a virtual lab where counselors help families file the form, to setting up an ‘influencer’ program where students use social media to link their peers to groups that can help with the transition from high school to college. We’re using our communications channels at Chiefs for Change to emphasize the importance of completing the FAFSA and to show how districts are supporting students to do exactly that.”

In this challenging time, Chiefs for Change is supporting its members and their teams in every possible way, including by promoting efforts that set students up for success in life after high school. As Duncan said in the video, in the FAFSA Fast Break, “all of our students are winners.”

About Chiefs for Change 

Chiefs for Change is a nonprofit, bipartisan network of diverse state and district education chiefs dedicated to preparing all students for today’s world and tomorrow’s through deeply committed leadership. Chiefs for Change advocates for policies and practices that are making a difference today for students, and builds a pipeline of talented, diverse Future Chiefs ready to lead major school systems.