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Molokai High Wins FAFSA Challenge


Molokai High School blew away the competition when it came to percentage of students completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The statewide organization Hawaii P–20 Partnerships for Education held a Cash for College Challenge for FAFSA completion to help promote postsecondary education. Molokai High finished in first place with a whopping 73 percent of students in the senior class completing the funding application. FAFSA is a required step in applying for federal grants, loans or work-study opportunities, and helps students and families identify their financial aid eligibility.

Not only did Molokai High come in 23 points above the state average for FAFSA completion, it also saw the greatest increase in the state over applications last year — 14.5 percent.

This year, 15 schools participated in the challenge. Schools showing the highest FAFSA completion rates as well as the largest increase over the previous year were awarded cash prizes ranging from $1000 to $1200. This funding can be used for senior class activities like high school graduation, prom and end-of-year events, according to a University of Hawaii news release last week. McKinley High School finished the Cash for College Challenge in second place, with 63 percent student completion.

“One of the strategies that worked best for us is the individual follow up we were able to do with our students,” said Mahina Kamakana-Juario, Molokai High School college and career counselor, in the news release. “I think we may have pestered them a bit too much, reminding them everyday to complete the FAFSA, but that’s what it took to get the results we did.”
“I feel so proud for my classmates because we all have our own individual dreams,” Molokai High student Allen Oamil told UH.

Completion of the FAFSA is strongly associated with enrollment in education after high school. According to a recent study cited in the news release, 90 percent of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA attend college directly from high school, compared to just 55 percent of students who do not complete the FAFSA. FAFSA completion is also a good indicator of college completion, with 52 percent of FAFSA filers completing a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrollment. That’s compared to 44 percent of students who do not complete it.

“Each year, millions of free federal grants dollars are left unclaimed in Hawaii,” said Stephen Schatz, Hawaii P–20 executive director. “This aid could have helped more of our Hawaii’s students attend college, including the University of Hawaii. We need to do everything we can to help make college more affordable for students and families and helping them complete the FAFSA is one way to do this.”

Hawaii P–20, led by the Executive Office on Early Learning, the Hawaii State Department of Education, and the University of Hawaii System, has established a goal to have 55 percent of Hawaii’s working age adults hold two- or four-year college degree by 2025.

This is the second year of the Cash for College Challenge. The contest was open to all GEAR UP eligible high schools, or schools with a 50 percent or higher, free or reduced lunch status.

“A postsecondary degree or certificate is the great equalizer,” said Alex Harris, strategic advisor for Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, which support the Cash for College Challenge. “Financial cost can be a major barrier, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Students win when high schools make the financial aid process easier. The Harold K.L. Castle Foundation commends the winners of the Cash for College Challenge for taking this important step towards helping so many become college graduates.”


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