Just 36% have submitted FAFSA; Wisconsin ranks 34th in the nation

Chalk it up as another unintended consequence of the pandemic: Just 36% of high school seniors have submitted their FAFSA -- the Free Application for Financial Student Aid. Wisconsin ranks 34th nationwide according to the National College Attainment Network.

When you look at the number of people that lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19, either students or parents, that loss of income has a ripple effect. For so many, loans and grants help pay for education which can then spur a career.

That's why a pair of staffers at Cardinal Stritch University is working to smash myths and let students know what's available.

In any other school year, it's a conscious effort, but amid the coronavirus pandemic, like so many things, it's different.

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"A lot of their access to resources that they normally would have had in a non-pandemic year are just not there because their schools are so focused on their teaching and keeping students connected to their high schools," said Shaun Keating, director of undergraduate admissions at Cardinal Stritch.

Keating said the number of seniors completing the FAFSA in Wisconsin is down anywhere from 10% to 13%, a trend he and Financial Aid Director Mark Quistorf are trying to change.

"The financial aid office -- what we're here for is to break down financial barriers," said Quistorf. "What the pandemic has done is increase those barriers."

Students and parents have lost jobs, changing their financial situation, and for some, their understanding of whether they can afford a college education.

"Our most vulnerable populations are the ones that are down the most, and so, you know, that just exacerbates a problem that's already been there," said Quistorf. 

So Keating and Quistorf thought outside the financial aid office, expanding their outreach to students, both current and prospective, with mailers and live-streamed Q&A sessions to make sure anyone that wants to get a college degree can make it happen.

"The financial aid process is there to support students and make a college education a reality for people, and make it more affordable for people," said Keating.

Cardinal Stritch is hosting a second financial aid Q&A session Monday, Feb. 22.