Video produced by Ethan Phelan.
West Haven is one of 16 school districts in Connecticut chosen to participate in Governor Ned Lamont’s FAFSA completion challenge, designed to help increase the percentage of seniors filling out their FAFSA forms. The two winning schools will be awarded $10,000.
The state already granted our school $4,600 for being selected as a finalist in the challenge. Principal Dana Paredes is using that money to sponsor a weekly raffle of $100 Visa gift cards. All students who have completed their FAFSA are automatically entered into the raffle. Additionally, every senior who completes their FAFSA will be given a free cap and gown, a savings of between $30 to $40.
The two districts with the highest increase in the percentage of students completing the FAFSA from last year will win the two $10,000 prizes.
The school has not determined what it will do with the money if we win, but it will go toward something for students, said School Counselor Deborah Kachmar.
Last year 27% of West Haven seniors completed their FAFSA, compared with a current rate of 44%, according to the State Department of Education.
The purpose of this competition is to increase FAFSA completion rates 5% over last year and improve post-secondary enrollment rates, according to the State Department of Education. In December 2020, the state’s FAFSA completion was down 16% from the previous year. Many students are unaware of their eligibility for a Pell Grant or don’t take the time to complete the FAFSA, losing out on an opportunity for free money.
“Everybody can afford free,” Ms. Kachmar said. She also said that filling out the FAFSA can give students the opportunity to qualify for the PACT program, which gives first-time college students in Connecticut the opportunity to attend community college full-time for free. The program is on a first-come, first-serve basis and household income does not matter.
If students want help filling out the FAFSA they can go to the career center or they can contact their school counselor to make an appointment for a FAFSA workshop, which are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays via Zoom. Distance learners are welcomed as well.