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Delaware Headlines

The Delaware FAFSA Tracking Initiative follows local aid applications

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The Delaware FAFSA Tracking Initiative is an interactive dashboard created by the Delaware Data Innovation Lab (DDIL) in collaboration with the TeenSHARP advocacy group.

It not only shows how many Delaware public high school students have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) this year – 5,558 of 9,341 seniors at 36 schools, for a completion rate of 59.5 percent – but it also provides school-by-school breakdowns and comparisons with completion data for the last two years.

To assemble the dashboard, DDIL data scientists Rakhi Agwaral and Talla Cisse, relied on information available at the federal student aid website and in the Delaware Open Data Portal.

Users of the dashboard can track data for schools in their area, make comparisons and see how performance has changed in the past two years. Nonpublic schools are not included in the dashboard because their data is not included in the Delaware Open Data Portal database, Agwaral said.

The dashboard currently shows that Sussex Academy has the highest completion rate so far this school year, 87.6 percent, and Positive Outcomes Charter the lowest, 20 percent. But data experts and school counselors suggest using some caution in making comparisons. Small sample size can skew data, and Sussex Academy, with 97 seniors, and Positive Outcomes, with 20, are the only public schools in the state with fewer than 100 students in their senior class.

Also, schools that tend to send fewer graduates to college will likely have lower completion rates than schools like the top-ranking Sussex Academy, Cab Calloway School of the Arts and Charter School of Wilmington, where almost all graduates enroll in college.

Brandywine High School, for example, currently shows a middle-of-the-pack 53.6 percent completion rate, but that’s already a significant improvement, counselor Susan Hullman says, because only 43.2 percent of the school’s Class of 2020 enrolled in college last fall.

In addition to data on individual schools, the dashboard includes a page with links to FAFSA worksheets, instructions and tips.

DDIL is a newly established nonprofit organization, incubated at CompassRed, itself a relatively new data analytics business, and funded by a $2 million federal CARES Act innovation grant awarded to CompassRed through the New Castle County government.

Since its creation in October, DDIL has focused on data projects related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including research into evictions and foreclosures in New Castle County and analyzing restaurant reviews to determine which eateries were faring best at making their patrons feel comfortable while dining during the pandemic, according to Ryan Harrington, head of data science team at CompassRed and DDIL. 

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