Just half of New Mexico high school seniors last year filled out a form to get federal assistance in paying for college, according to state officals. Now, the state's Public Education Department is launching efforts to boost that number as part of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s plan to make college free for New Mexicans at public institutions.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is how students can qualify for grants, scholarships, work-study programs and loans. The application can be tricky—it asks for tax info and other details—and state officials said the New Mexico is missing out on millions of dollars because so many students don’t apply.
Marisa Thompson, outreach supervisor and creative director for the New Mexico Educational Assistance Foundation, said the students who could benefit most from financial aid are the ones it often doesn’t reach.
"Nationally, the data shows that rural, first-generation, low-income students have a lesser completion rate," Thompson said, "because the culture of college is not kind of as it is if you had a parent who went to college."
Starting this week, PED will hold a series of FAFSA trainings for high school counselors and volunteers throughout the state. They also plan to make available data that will allow school staff to see which individual students have applied for FAFSA or not.
The goal is to get 80 percent of high school seniors statewide to submit a FAFSA application, or about 17,660 students total. PED said 11,000 students applied last year.
According to an analysis by NerdWallet, New Mexico's graduating class of 2018 missed out on $21,825,646 in federal Pell Grants alone.
Gov. Lujan Grisham this week proposed a plan to pay for undergraduate tuition for in-state students, drawing on oil and gas revenues to cover what the N.M. Lottery Scholarship and federal aid don’t. A PED news release on Thursday said increasing FAFSA participation is "the most impactful way K-12 schools can contribute to the financial sustainability" of the proposed program.