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Region One ESC and partners launch state-wide challenge to boost FAFSA completion

Region One ESC and partners launch state-wide challenge to boost FAFSA completion

EDINBURG – Leaders from across the state are coming together to encourage high school seniors to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and take advantage of billions of funds available in financial aid in the form of federal and state grants, work-study opportunities, scholarships, or loans. Students can use financial aid to help pay for education after high school by enrolling at a community college, university or career school.

The Region One Education Service Center, Texas Workforce Commission, Texas Regional Bank, Educate Texas and RGV Focus challenged the other 19 regional education service centers across the state to increase the percentage of FAFSA completions in their region among the Class of 2023. Texas Workforce Commissioner (TWC) Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez, as well as leaders from the partner organizations, kicked-off the Texas FAFSA Challenge on Nov. 10 at the Region One Education Service Center with 300 high school counselors in attendance.

“In order for us to address the job demand, we have to make sure we have a skilled workforce,” said Alvarez, “The first step is to motivate students to take some sort of credential after high school whether that is an industry-recognized certificate, two-year or four-year degree.”

Alvarez said that students who fill out their FAFSA are already one step ahead in the process and students who don’t complete the application are less likely to take advantage of educational opportunities after high school.

“We want every individual in this great region to succeed, because when the Rio Grande Valley succeeds the whole state succeeds,” he said.

Partners and counselors representing 96 high schools from across the Region One service area pledged to support high school seniors in completing the FAFSA before graduation. Ensuring access to funding for affordable education after high school supports students from Cameron to Webb counties in making their career dreams a reality and filling in-demand industry positions across the state. 

“I could not have gone to college if I hadn’t filled out the FAFSA,” said Alex Meade, Executive Vice President of Economic Development and Public Finance at Texas Regional Bank. “My parents had a very hard time mainly because they were Spanish-speaking and there were times that my counselor helped me fill in the blanks.”

Mead said having the commitment from event attendees to support the challenge is exciting to see this initiative take off state-wide.

Texas is one of the numerous states across the nation including California, Florida and New York to support a state-wide initiative to boost FAFSA completion rates. The goal is to increase the percentage of students who completed the FAFSA from the 2021-2022 academic year.

Educate Texas’s online dashboard tracks the FAFSA completion progress of high schools, school systems and regions across the state. The percentage change from last year will be calculated to show gains from Oct. 1, 2022, to Aug. 31, 2023. Managing Director of Programs at Educate Texas, Chris Coxon said students who fill out a FAFSA are 84% more likely to go on to college after high school while the percentage is higher for those students experiencing poverty.

“This region demonstrating its leadership and challenging itself and the rest of the state to increase those FAFSA numbers is absolutely amazing, and we are thrilled to be a part of it,” Coxon said. “The data demonstrates that this region is currently second out of the 20 regions in the percentage of students completing the FAFSA form.”

In September 2023, the top high school, top school system and top region will be announced at the Texas FAFSA Challenge Kick-off event for the 2023-2024 academic year.

“Region One is committed to increase the percentage of high school seniors that complete their FAFSA applications,” said Dr. Daniel King, Region One Executive Director. “We are challenging the rest of the state to join us and make an impact in all of our communities.”

King said it was truly inspiring to see the hundreds of counselors signing the pledge banner committing to support this initiative.