Press Release

Peer-to-Peer Program Found to Boost FAFSA Completion Rates in Low-Income High Schools
College Summit’s PeerForward Increased Financial Aid Applications By 26 Percent Compared with Similar High Schools

Contact: Reagan Walker
202.319.1763 ext. 289
rwalker@collegesummit.org

For Immediate Release

Washington, D.C. – More than $2.7 billion in federal financial aid sits unused each year because millions of students don’t complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But a program that uses peers to encourage their fellow high school students to apply for the aid is substantially boosting FAFSA completion rates, according to a new study, clearing a key hurdle to postsecondary education for low-income students.

The study researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, Peer Influences on High School FAFSA Completion, found that College Summit’s PeerForward program increases FAFSA completion by 26 percent compared with similar high schools that don’t use the program. The research compared 42 PeerForward schools with high schools with similar demographics in the same geographic areas.

Research has shown that students are the greatest influence on school culture and their peers. PeerForward trains high school student leaders to motivate and train classmates to take three steps toward college admission:1) applying to three or more colleges, 2) filing early for financial aid, and 3) connecting academics to specific life goals.

PeerForward seeks to improve schools’ college-going culture, the number of students who apply, enroll, and ultimately graduate from college, and the long-term life outcomes of students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds.

“We motivate students to apply for college by unleashing the power of peers. Access to financial aid through FAFSA is the key to unlocking funds to pay for college, a major concern for many of low-income students,” said Keith Frome, the chief executive officer and co-founder of College Summit. “The positive results of this program on FAFSA completion rates will change the lives of students as they pursue higher education.”

In a post about the study on the Brooking Institution’s blog, University of Pittsburgh researchers Paul Scott and Lindsay C. Page write that the PeerForward program could be a way to address the lack of counseling capacity in some schools. PeerForward programs are most commonly found in schools where the student-to-counselor ratio can exceed 500-to-1.

“This study’s results suggest activation of peer guidance as a strategy for improving college going, especially in settings like [Chicago Public Schools] where key resources – such as counselors – are already stretched thin,” they write.

FAFSA is the key to making college financially attainable for low-income students and is a leading indicator of postsecondary enrollment. Research has shown that students who file early are 50 percent more likely to enroll in college and can access double the amount of funding. However, millions of students are unable to complete the application. Factors such as the complexity of the application, parents who are distrustful of the process and misinformation about deadlines, eligibility and financial aid all contribute to students’ inability to file. This leaves many students without the financial ability to pursue higher education.

PeerForward programs are in 95 high schools in 10 states and the District of Columbia. Most of the schools serve large numbers of students from low-income families, many of whom would be first-generation college students.

The study examines completion rates as of March 3, 2017. The FAFSA is due in June, but PeerForward’s goal is to have students file as early as October and no later than March. While the study found that the national average increase of FAFSA completion in PeerForward schools was 26 percent, it was higher in some states. For example, PeerForward schools in South Carolina had 77 percent higher FAFSA completion rates compared with similar schools.

“While by no means a silver bullet, students themselves may be an untapped resource that could help transform our public schools,” Scott and Page conclude.

To learn more about College Summit and PeerForward, visit www.collegesummit.org

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College Summit is an organization dedication to transforming the lives of low-income youth by connecting them to college and career. College Summit has placed more than 250,000 students nationwide on the path to college. Through the PeerForward program, College Summit relies on the power of positive peer influence to motivate students to pursue higher education.


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