Louisiana Students Rank Highest on FAFSA Completion

Once again, the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) has determined that Louisiana holds the top spot in the nation for the amount of high school seniors who have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), according to the Louisiana Department of Education.

FAFSA is a free application that provides the federal government with the financial information needed to determine what loans and grants a student qualifies for. It’s the only way a student can receive federal funding. Included in the FAFSA are all forms of financial aid provided by the federal government, like Pell grants, federal student loans, and work-study programs. Louisiana graduates wishing to receive priority consideration for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) scholarships must also complete the FAFSA. Aside from this, many colleges and states, and even private financial aid providers, use the information from FAFSA to determine eligibility for aid.

Despite how important the FAFSA is, an analysis of federal student aid data conducted by the National College Access Network (NCAN) estimates that over $3.75 billion of federal aid was left unclaimed by the high school class of 2021 across the nation, which is a direct result of not completing the FAFSA. NCAN estimates that 813,000 of the 1.7 million students who didn’t submit the FAFSA would have been eligible for financial aid, in particular Pell grants, if they had only completed the application.

According to Bill DeBaun, NCAN’s director of data and evaluation, many students think college is out of reach because they can’t afford it. However, they may not realize how much federal aid they qualify for and they won’t unless they complete the FAFSA. “Requiring the FAFSA for high school graduation puts it more prominently on the radars of district and school practitioners, and also students and families; it’s a clear signal states are sending that FAFSA completion is important, and also that considering a postsecondary pathway is also important,” said DeBaun.

 In light of how important the FAFSA is, Louisiana was the first state to make completing the application a graduation requirement. Since making this change in the 2017-2018 academic year, several other states have done the same. In order to graduate, seniors must complete one of four forms: the FAFSA, an opt-out form, a waiver, or a state merit scholarship form that requires no information about family finances.

 A completed FAFSA application isn’t just important to students; the information gathered from them is used to determine a significant amount of postsecondary funding. Because of this, Louisiana’s Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) runs monthly error reports on submitted applications. The reports can identify missing information so that the office can notify students of the errors and can then help them to fix them.

To make filling out a tedious and boring form more “fun,” some Louisiana state officials have turned the completion of the FAFSA into a friendly competition among high schools.  The state has taken to providing FAFSA workshops and seminars and have even set up tables to fill out the forms at various social events, like sports tournaments. Every month, the school with the most FAFSA gains is announced and those students have bragging rights until the next month’s winner is determined.

Getting students excited about paperwork isn’t enough though, so Louisiana provided trained staffers to guide and support school counselors. Louisiana also sent state workers from the Department of Education and the Office of Student Financial Assistance to all corners of the state to help with any events that might increase the amount of applications completed. They also held virtual workshops via Zoom during the pandemic.

All of this hard work paid off when it was determined that 66.5 of Louisiana’s Class of 2022 had submitted the form, the highest percentage in the country. This was determined by NCAN, who uses a tracker to count applications that are fully completed and processed. More completed applications mean more financial aid reaching the students who need it most.

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BCBS of Louisiana Foundation Awards Nicholls a Disaster Response Grant

Nicholls State University will soon be able to offer need-based scholarships to help students return to campus after having previously left in the wake of Hurricane Ida. According to this news release from the school, a $100,000 disaster response grant will be utilized to create these scholarships, which will be helpful to students wanting to return to their degree plans.

It was announced by the university in May 2022 that a $100,000 disaster response grant was awarded by The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation. It was also announced that the funds would be utilized so that students who had halted their learning due to Hurricane Ida’s detrimental impact on the area would be able to qualify for a needs-based scholarship that would offset the cost of re-enrolling & returning to classes.

Nicholls State University President Dr. Jay Clune commented on BCBSLA’s award by saying, “even though others outside of South Louisiana have long stopped talking about the effects of Hurricane Ida, we are still feeling the impacts every single day. We are grateful for this partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield. I don’t like to think of where we would be without the support of our wonderful industry and community partners.”

In the wake of Hurricane Ida, the destructive Category 4 Atlantic hurricane that made its landfall near Port Fourchon on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it was reported that an estimated 25% of Lafourche and Terrebonne Parish homes were destroyed or declared uninhabitable. Additionally, approximately two-thirds of the Nicholls community reported that their homes were destroyed or uninhabitable. Once the storm passed, the BCBSLA Foundation had committed $5 million in funds to areas affected by Ida, and other communities across the Gulf Coast also stepped up.

Earlier this year, The Courier reported that Nicholls State’s spring enrollment had dropped 10% from the previous year, attributing the decline to Hurricane Ida as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In August of 2021, Nicholls President Dr. Jay Clune announced that the school would essentially restructure its retention and recruitment strategies. As a result, the university’s decision to have recruitment and retention efforts managed by the Office of Academic Affairs, specifically being led by Sue Westbrook, provost and president for Academic Affairs, and Renee Hicks, assistant vice president of Institutional Effectiveness, Access, and success.

It was then reported that the university’s fall-to-spring retention rate of first-time freshmen had increased by 7.9 percentage points from the previous year to be listed at 90.5%. This was the first time that this retention rate had surpassed 90% in over a decade, thus signaling that Nicholls’ restructuring was beginning to pay off. Renee Hicks interpreted the data by saying, “when we post retention rates like this, it means our entire campus community has come together to provide extraordinary support for our students during the recovery from a major hurricane on top of a pandemic.”

Dr. Clune commented on the promising data, saying, “in addition to our strong retention rates, we also see applications are up year-to-year. I attribute that to our data-led approach to recruitment and retention by Ms. Hicks and her team. With a new marketing campaign and increased recruitment and retention efforts, we anticipate a return to an upward trend in enrollment.”

Pair this earlier indicator of rising enrollment rates with these new needs-based scholarships established from The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation’s $100,000 disaster response grant, and it’s even clearer to see that not just the campus community of Nicholls is coming together to come out of Hurricane Ida stronger than before, but the surrounding community of Houma, Thibodaux, and the State of Louisiana is banding together as well.

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Tulane University Brain Institute Awarded NIH Grant

Earlier this month, the National Institute of Health awarded a $14 million grant to Tulane University’s Brain Institute to study why heart disease, hypertension, and Type 2 diabetes seem to prevent the medicinal benefits of estrogen therapy, as per a press release from Tulane University.

Established in 2016, Tulane’s Brain Institute is an academic multidisciplinary organization that aims to coordinate and elevate neuroscience across Tulane University’s campus. Jill Daniel, the principal investigator of estrogen study and the director of the Tulane Brain Institute, commented on receiving the grant in saying: The Brain Institute was created to support the kind of collaborative, boundary-crossing research that is needed to answer big questions about the brain and brain disorders. This grant will allow us to do just that.”

The $14 million grant awarded by the NIH’s National Institute on Aging will be used by Jill Daniel, the Gary P. Dohanich Professor in Brain Science and professor of psychology to lead a team, composed of scientists from the Tulane University schools of Science and Engineering, Medicine, and Public Health and Tropical Medicine. The team of scientists will also be made up of scientists from the LSU Health Sciences Center as well as the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine.

The team will embark on a five-year study to determine why and under what specific conditions estrogen therapy can increase or decrease the risk for developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Estrogen therapy can help to protect women against age-related cognitive decline, but decades of laboratory research have found that women who take estrogen therapy after menopause don’t see the expected delay or decrease in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Daniel said of the phenomenon, “in the lab, estrogens are neuroprotective and enhance memory, yet in women, effects of menopausal estrogen therapy on aging brains can range from beneficial to detrimental. We hypothesize that cardiovascular and metabolic disease alter the neuroprotective effects of estrogens. This comprehensive research program will determine mechanisms by which a healthy brain responds differently to estrogens as compared to an unhealthy one and identify conditions under which estrogen administration will or will not prevent or delay age-related cognitive disease.”

The National Institute of Health’s $14 million Program Project Grant (PPG) will include four interrelated research projects with each project’s research investigator focusing on areas such as the impact of hypertension and a high-fat diet on the ability of estrogen to affect the aging female brain as well as the impact of estrogen on vascular health and cognitive aging.

One of the aspects of the research project that is considered to be essential in achieving the program’s overall objective is found in what each lead investigator brings to the table, as each will surely lend their “distinct yet complementary area of expertise to the PPG.” The lead investigators of the Tulane Brain Institute’s Program Project Grant (PPG) team are associate professors of pharmacology Sarah Lindsey and Ricardo Mostany, associate professor of cell and molecular biology Laura Schrader, and associate professor of physiology Andrea Zsombok.

As outlined by Jill Daniel, there is enough preliminary evidence to suggest that postmenopausal women taking some form of estrogen therapy could be at increased risk of cognitive disease if they have a pre-existing condition such as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. It’s one of the goals of the overall project to determine if and how postmenopausal estrogen therapy interacts interact with cardiovascular and metabolic health to impact the brain and cognitive aging.

Daniel announced that the team will “hypothesize that cardiovascular and metabolic disease alter the neuroprotective effects of estrogens. This comprehensive research program will determine mechanisms by which a healthy brain responds differently to estrogens as compared to an unhealthy one and identify conditions under which estrogen administration will or will not prevent or delay age-related cognitive disease.

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