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The pandemic takes its educational toll in countless ways and one of them is a dramatic drop in Newark high school seniors applying to college. Throughout New Jersey, 57% of seniors have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or the FAFSA, which Chalkbeat calls “a bellwether of college enrollment.” That’s a drop of 4%. But in Newark only 33% of seniors have, a drop of 23% compared with last year.
This is especially troubling given the alarming drop in proficiency in reading in math, disproportionately borne by low-income students of color. For example, a JerseyCAN study projects a 50% learning loss among Black students in math and a 37% learning loss among economically-disadvantaged students in reading.
Yet Newark’s college application rate does vary from school to school. For example, at Malcolm Shabazz High School last year 47 students filled out their FAFSA but this year only 16 students did; at Central High School last year 64 students filled out their FAFSA but this year only 26 did.
“It’s scaring us, to be quite honest,” said Nefertari Nkenge, national program director at Pathways to College, a nonprofit that helps prepare students in Newark and other cities for higher education. “We’re nervous because we know the numbers in Newark, and because many of our students are struggling.”
Then again, the most recent data shows that only 2% of students at Shabazz achieve porficiency in math and only 15% do in reading. (The NJ average is 42% in math and 55% in reading.) Last year a video went viral — appearing even in this British publication–when a Shabazz junior varsity basketball coach was beaten up by students after he tried to protect one student from bullying.
Yet two kinds of public schools in Newark managed to keep FAFSA-completion up: admission-restricted magnet schools and charter schools. According to Chalkbeat, three district magnets–Science Park, Technology High School, and University High—are putting in extra effort. One high school senior at University High said, “I get at least three or four notifications every few hours [to apply for scholarships and financial aid]. They’ve been really pushing to help us out.”
And at Newark Collegiate Academy, part of the KIPP charter network,
Staffers met privately with families over video during a virtual “FAFSA Night.” And because counselors could no longer host working lunches in their offices, they had food delivered to students’ homes while they talked college over Zoom. “I think we’re realizing how important the relationship piece is,” said Diane Adams-White, director of KIPP’s college-access program in Newark. She said about 77% of seniors at the KIPP high school have completed the FAFSA so far this year.
It’s not too late for schools like Shabazz and Central to up their game. New Jersey state community and four-year colleges allow students to submit completed FAFSA reports until September 15th.