Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds.

State officials are urging more Iowa high schoolers to fill out the federal form required to qualify for most financial aid for college.

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds says completing the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” or FAFSA can be a student’s first step toward “transforming” their life.

“The average federal Pell Grant for Iowans last year was $3348,” Reynolds says. “Filing the FAFSA may also help students obtain state and school-based financial aid, yet many seniors especially those from low-income (families) and who could be the first of their family to go to college may be intimidated.”

Reynolds says the form has been “streamlined” and students have more time to file. As of last Monday, February 6, 59 percent of high school seniors had filed the financial aid form. Reynolds says some Iowa high schools have really “low completion rates,” and there’s a new initiative to track which students have filled out the forms.

“That includes Akron-Westfield Senior High School, which jumped from 47 percent of students filing last year to 71 percent filing so far this school year, so that’s tremendous progress,” Reynolds says, “and we still have a lot of time left for the seniors to file.”

Last year, about half of the Iowa seniors who completed the “FAFSA” process quality for federal Pell Grants. More than 70 Iowa school districts are now using a new website to track students have completed the paperwork. Karen Misjak, executive director of Iowa College Aid, is maintaining the website. Her agency distributes $70 million in state tuition assistance to college students and the FAFSA is used to determine who gets those grants.

“Iowa also sets the deadline to file a FAFSA at July 1, but there’s no reason to wait,” Misjak says. “Some scholarships and grants have earlier deadlines and even some have ‘first-come, first-served’ basis, so the earlier you complete your FAFSA and you’re in the system, then the better chances you (have) of receiving financial aid to go to college.”

Again, FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Here’s the website tracking FAFSA completion rates for more than 70 Iowa high schools.

Misjak and Reynolds discussed the initiative this morning during the governor’s weekly news conference (audio here).