Hello! My name is Jenn Schilling, and I am an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the Metropolitan Education Commission in Tucson. In my VISTA role, I build capacity for the Metropolitan Education Commission’s Regional College Access Center by developing data collection and analysis capabilities, formalizing our peer mentoring program, and creating workshops and materials to support college access. The Metropolitan Education Commission is also part of the Tucson Community Schools Initiative, which is a joint effort between Tucson Mayor’s Office and Arizona Serve that aims to increase graduation rates and connect students with postgraduate pathways to success through developing partnerships between community based organizations and the eight participating high schools.

In February, I received an email from the Arizona College Access Network that included a link to an awesome dashboard from the Be a Leader Foundation in Phoenix that shows FAFSA completion data for high schools in the Phoenix Union School District. In my role as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Metropolitan Education Commission, and given my background in data and analytics, I thought to myself, “How can I create something like that for us and our partner schools?”

The Metropolitan Education Commission engages with schools throughout Southern Arizona and assists students with all steps of the college process, including college applications, scholarship applications, and FAFSA completion. Every week the U.S. Department of Education publishes data on FAFSA submissions and completions at high schools in each state. Using this data along with senior class cohort sizes at each of our partner schools, we can show the percent of a senior class that has completed the FAFSA, weekly FAFSA completion numbers at each high school, and the progress a high school has made towards meeting last year’s FAFSA completion rate.

I developed three dashboards using Tableau Public to convey these metrics. The Tableau Workbook is connected to a Google Sheet that contains the data, which makes updating the data each week very easy. In addition, using Tableau Public and Google Sheets meant that this solution was free to create.

The dashboards provide the data from the U.S. Department of Education directly to our partner schools so that they do not have to spend the time pulling and filtering the data – they can simply find their school on our dashboards; we’ve already done all of the processing. The dashboards also provide information on week to week progress and highlight bright spots where schools are exceeding last year’s completion rates. In addition, the dashboards help the Metropolitan Education Commission focus our services on the schools that need the most help with the FAFSA.

We created a page on our website to host our FAFSA Dashboard so that our school and community partners can easily access the reports. FAFSA completion is so important because it is strongly associated with postsecondary enrollment and completion. According to data from a longitudinal study from the National Center for Education Statistics, 90% of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA enroll in a post-secondary education program immediately after high school, compared to 55% of high school seniors who do not complete the FAFSA. In addition, 52% of students who complete the FAFSA complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrollment versus 44% of students who do not complete the FAFSA

I hope that presenting the FAFSA completion data from the U.S. Department of Education through these visualizations will help both the Metropolitan Education Commission and our school partners increase the number of students who complete the FAFSA and successfully enroll in higher education.