Few Alaska high school seniors have applied for federal student aid this year

With three months until the deadline, only 16% of Alaska high school seniors have applied for federal student aid.

The funding mechanism, called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is an indicator of college-bound students.

Alaska has the lowest rate of applicants in the nation, which has been true for at least the last decade, said Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education Executive Director Sana Efird.

“The No. 1 reason we hear from students and families that they do not enroll in post-secondary programs is the cost,” she said.

The application has been revised this year, and the federal government was slow to make it available. Even among students who have applied across the country, there have been federal delays in processing the data.

In Alaska, the low application numbers have implications for the state’s workforce, she said, because they mean Alaskans are losing access to a funding source that’s crucial to meeting the state’s post-secondary school and workforce funding needs.

Efird said the federal grants available through the FAFSA application can go a long way toward covering University of Alaska tuition.


“(FAFSA) is a foundational piece of what could put together a really great financial picture for students and for Alaskans to complete a program, a certificate, a training that would raise their economic outlook for their life and their family,” she said.

At this time last year, roughly 30% more of Alaska’s high school seniors had applied, data shows. Efird said that this year’s application rate pencils out to about 10,000 Alaska applicants. Last year by this time, more than 14,000 had applied, she said.

The state has been trying to turn its lackluster application numbers around. Last October, the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education and the University of Alaska held a “FAFSA Summit,” a two-day conference aimed at raising the number of students who complete the application.

Attendees heard from the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance’s Ebony Holmes, who explained how her state invested in FAFSA requirements for secondary schools and significantly boosted its applicant rates. Louisiana lawmakers implemented “universal FAFSA” and made the paperwork a graduation requirement. It is one of 11 states with the requirement.

More than 40% of Louisiana high school seniors have submitted the paperwork so far this year.

Efird said universal FAFSA is something the state of Alaska and its school districts should research to see if it could be a solution here, and how the state could financially support such a requirement.

There is still time for students to apply for the FAFSA; the deadline is June 30.

The format is new, and Efird said there have been some struggles, but that ultimately the application is improved.

“We’re still hearing from families that it is much easier to fill out than it has been in the past. And so it’s well worth their time to do this,” she said.

[With college decisions looming, students across the U.S. ask: What’s the cost, really?]

Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.