New FAFSA 21 Campaign Helps Incentivize Ohio Postsecondary Enrollment
ReadyNation member Dan Bates highlights solutions to close Ohio’s skills gap
As the leader of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, I know first-hand how difficult it can be for employers to find qualified workers, and that our community is not alone in facing this challenge. Numerous studies and surveys show that Ohio has a significant “skills gap,” meaning that there are more jobs requiring postsecondary degrees, certificates, or credentials than there are people who can fill them.
Last year, a brief from the business leaders of ReadyNation Ohio, entitled “Building Postsecondary Pathways Today for the Economy of Tomorrow,” revealed that Ohio’s economy needs about 65 percent of its workers to have attained postsecondary education, but fewer than half of adults aged 25 and over have done so. Even with the growth in skill attainment over the past decade, Ohio remains behind other states, ranked just 31st out of the 50 states.
According to the brief, this gap translates into a need of approximately one million more workers with postsecondary degrees, certificates, and credentials than Ohio currently possesses. Therefore, making higher education–two- and four-year degrees as well as technical programs and industry credentials–more affordable and accessible is a win-win approach that benefits multiple generations of Ohioans.
Closing Ohio’s skills gap is a laudable goal because we also know that the more education a person has, the greater his or her lifetime earnings tend to be. The higher level of educational attainment in the population at large helps to strengthen our families and communities, with a larger and broader tax base, and it can also reduce the need for some social services.
An important first step towards achieving educational goals for many people is to discover the availability of financial assistance. To help facilitate access to educational financial aid, there is a new statewide initiative called “FAFSA 21” that seeks to improve the number of students who complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. FAFSA allows students to qualify for the federal Pell grants, state grants, and many scholarships. FAFSA completion is one of the best predictors of postsecondary enrollment in all varieties of programs. Studies show that high school seniors who complete the FAFSA are 84 percent more likely to enroll in college right out of high school.
Unfortunately, state data also shows that FAFSA completion rates have decreased over the past year. Ohio completion rates have declined 9.1 percent compared to the same period last year. Research has shown that Ohioans are leaving approximately $87 million on the table in Pell grants alone, just because they don’t fill out the FAFSA. The FAFSA 21 initiative ensures that Ohio’s students have the support they need to complete the FAFSA.
ReadyNation Ohio applauds these efforts to improve FAFSA completion. To help create lasting change, Ohio’s proposed operating budget calls for much-needed additional support for school counselors to help students and families complete the FAFSA. By working together, Ohio can be a leader in creating postsecondary opportunities for success that will strengthen communities, families, and the workforce.