Released by the Louisiana Department of Education on June 29, 2018.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Louisiana has bypassed Tennessee to become the No.1 state in the nation for the number of high school seniors completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), according to the most recent report by the National College Access Network (NCAN). Louisiana also leads the nation for completion growth since last year.

"Louisiana is a leader in financial aid planning, and more students than ever before are having their job training or college tuition paid for as a result," said State Superintendent John White. "We applaud the students, families, school and school system leaders who have worked to ensure every graduate who wanted financial support for their postsecondary pursuits received it."

The FAFSA is for all forms of federal financial aid, including Pell grants, work study programs and federal student loans available to students to aid in the cost of education and technical training beyond high school. It is also required for Louisiana graduates to receive priority consideration for Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) scholarships, which can also be used for four-year college and community and technical college training. The priority deadline each year is July 1.

NCAN tracks states' progress on its #FormYourFuture FAFSA Tracker and counts applications from both public and private schools that are fully completed and processed. To date, 76.5 percent of Louisiana's Class of 2018, or about 37,549 graduates, have completed the form. That's 0.1 percent more than Tennessee, which has engaged in a friendly competition with Louisiana for the top spot.

The Louisiana Department of Education also provides school system and school-level data, but it tallies submission rates, not completion rates, for public schools only, per state policy. Through this lens, 35,567 public school students have submitted the forms, 31,450 of which have been completed and processed. 

School systems in Catahoula, St. Bernard and Grant parishes had 100 percent of their students in the Class of 2018 submit the FAFSA, while school systems in East Carroll, Iberville, Red River, West Baton Rouge and St. John the Baptist parishes topped 90 percent. 

Furthermore, 67 percent of public schools statewide had at least 75 percent of their students in the Class of 2018 submit the FAFSA. That's an increase from this time last year, when just 18 percent of public schools reached that level.

View the FAFSA submission data for all Louisiana school systems and schools.

The increase in FAFSA submissions can be attributed, in part, to changes to the financial aid process. In the 2017-2018 school year, Louisiana began requiring financial aid planning as a condition for high school graduation. The requirement, which is unique to Louisiana, is part of the state's Financial Aid Access Policy, approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2015. According to the policy, all graduates must now complete a FAFSA, a TOPS scholarship form, or indicate they do not plan to apply for financial aid by submitting a waiver. 

To ensure the effective implementation of the policy, the Department in recent years has created a Louisiana Counselor Assistance Center; convened a Financial Aid Working Group; provided data on FAFSA submission rates among all seniors; and assisted school systems in coordinating events to counsel families directly on financial planning for postsecondary education.

The Department has also partnered with higher education entities and advocacy groups, such as the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA), Career Compass, the Louisiana Education Loan Authority (LELA), and College Beyond, to expand its reach.

At least two of these entities are hosting events to assist students and families with the financial aid process ahead of the priority deadline this weekend. 

LOSFA will hold a "Fix the FAFSA" event for recent high school graduates and parents who need assistance with correcting errors and completing the FAFSA before the priority deadline. The event, which will take place on June 30 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Goodwood Library in Baton Rouge, is open to anyone who needs assistance with the financial aid application process.

LELA will also be available via phone at 1-844-463-2372 to provide live assistance to any recent high school graduate in need of completing or correcting the FAFSA.

Original release located on the Louisiana Department of Education's website.