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The state has concerns less than 50 percent of college eligible Arizona students fill out the form. Numerous organizations hope to help increase that percentage to above 50 percent.

It would seem a no-brainer for any Arizona students who needs a college scholarship to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which streamlines the process of applying for almost any scholarship.

However, fewer than half do.

The FAFSA has become the almost universally used application that helps schools and the government determine if a student qualifies for a Pell Grant, a loan or scholarships.

The application process launches Oct. 1 every year.

Arizona has launched a program to increase FAFSA application rates and so has the Payson Unified School District.

Each year, Payson High School holds a financial aid night to help students and their parents fill out the FAFSA.

Superintendent Greg Wyman said PHS held its financial aid night on Sept. 17 this year.

Wyman said, Presli Keith, a representative from Grand Canyon University, provided information and answered questions from seniors and their parents.

At the end of the presentation, the district provided computers for parents to sign up for a FSA ID.

Yet Rim Country students report struggling when their parents avoid or delay filing their taxes.

That creates a core issue in filing for FAFSA.

The federal government determines support based on the parents’ tax information — until a student turns 24 years of age. At that point, the students may file based on their own tax information. Prior to that, unless a student proves both parents have died or they are emancipated, the FAFSA will not recommend a Pell Grant if parents make above a certain income. FAFSA will only recommend a loan.

Of course, a student can apply for scholarships, but for many it’s difficult to find scholarships.

Alarmed at the low percentage of students filling out the FAFSA, the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education, Arizona Governor’s Office of Education, Arizona State University, Maricopa Community Colleges, Northern Arizona University, the University of Arizona, Achieve60AZ, and the Arizona College Access Network joined together at the Arizona FAFSA Challenge 2018 to find solutions.

Initially, the groups want to boost the FAFSA completion rate from 43 percent to 50 percent.

“We know FAFSA completion has a direct and significant correlation to increased postsecondary enrollment,” said Dawn Wallace, director and education policy adviser for the Governor’s Office of Education. “By setting a shared state goal, we will bring collective awareness and focus to this simple, but important fact — resulting in more Arizona high school students pursuing a postsecondary pathway that will lead them into the career of the choice and the quality of life they so richly deserve.”

Rachel Yanof, executive director of Achieve60AZ has a more ambitious goal — increase college degree holders in the state.

“Research shows that students who complete the FAFSA are more likely to consider higher education,” she said. “Any step that we can take to get more students on the path to higher education helps move the needle towards our goal that 60 percent of Arizonans would have a postsecondary credential by 2030.”

contact the reporter at: mnelson@payson.com

I cover education, families, courts, non-profits, environmental and investigative reporting

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