HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Molokai High School and McKinley High School tied for first place in the state's FAFSA "Cash for College" challenge.
In the challenge, schools with the highest FAFSA completion rates are awarded cash prizes ranging from $1,000 to $1,200 that can be used to support senior-class activities like prom and graduation. Schools with significant increases in federal student aid enrollment were also eligible for prizes.
This year, 15 schools participated in the challenge supported by the Harold K. Castle foundation.
"Each year, millions of free federal grants dollars are left unclaimed in Hawaii," said Stephen Schatz, executive director of Hawaii P–20, in a news release.
Hawaii P-20 is an educational group on the island whose goal is for 55 percent of Hawaii's adults to have a two- or four-year college degree by 2025.
"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."
A recent study found that FAFSA completion has a strong connection to post-secondary enrollment — 90 percent of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA attend college directly after high school. In comparison, only 55 percent of students who don't apply for the FAFSA attend college right after high school.
Molokai, McKinley and Kailua high schools had the highest percentage of students sign up for the FAFSA with 73 percent, 63 percent and 57 percent turnout respectively.
"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 a 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."
The schools with the largest increase in FAFSA completion were Molokai, Aiea and McKinley high schools with 14.5, 9.2 and 8.1 percentage point increases respectively.
"A post-secondary degree or certificate is the great equalizer," said Alex Harris, Harold K.L. Castle Foundation strategic advisor, in a news release. "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."