Digging into the explanations behind the the decline in younger individuals looking for increased schooling alternatives

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Data can paint a picture, tell a story and serve as a resource for decision-making and problem-solving. But without meaningful statistics and an accurate interpretation, it is just random facts and figures with no form.

“People can get data — but it’s not necessarily easy to do,” said Ryan Harrington, leader of the technical and science team at theDelaware Data Innovation Lab, an independent 501 C (6) organization headquartered in CSC Station on the Wilmington Riverfront.

“Our goal is to bring together data scientists, analysts, technologists and engineers who can work on community challenges to increase innovation, community and collaboration, and, ultimately, highlight the diversity as well,” he said.

On Feb. 26, DDIL proved that it is doing just that. The organization unveiled a newdashboardtracking the decline inFree Application for Federal Student Aid(FAFSA) in Delaware. For many low-income students of color, aid is crucial.

“College access is an important side of our work, but college affordability is critical for every student,” said Atnre Alleyne, co-founder and CEO ofTeenSHARP,during the virtual event.

TeenSHARP, founded to increase underrepresented students’ access to college, brought the problem to the DDIL after noting a national drop in FAFSA completion rates. What was the story in Delaware’s high school schools?

“Is there something more that we can dig into so we can get ahead of potential gaps?” he asked.

Alleyne wants credible information to provide to schools and community-based partners. “In Delaware, a small state, we really can tackle this to make sure students are getting access to the aid and support they need,” he explained.

DDIL compiled publicly accessible datasets, added school demographic data – supplied by the state — and presented it on the online dashboard, explained Rakhi, Agrawal, a DDIL fellow.

During the 2018-2019 school year, 63% of enrolled seniors completed the FAFSA. The next year, after COVID hit, the number dropped to 59 percent. Schools with a higher number of black, indigenous and people of color percentages had lower completion rates. (The dashboard does not include private schools.)

“The goal is to make this data publicly available and easier to see and understand,” Harrington said. Parents, the community and advocacy groups can view how Delaware high schools compare.

Why has there been a drop? Alleyne said some students wonder if they should take a gap year in light of the pandemic. They worry that the college experience won’t be the same during COVID-19.

Moreover, some families have taken an economic hit. “The conversations that are going on are unprecedented,” he noted.

DDIL was founded to help tackle COVID-19-related issues, not the disease itself. In addition to FAFSA rates, the DDIL is also working on the following:

  • A hospitality sentiment tracker to gauge the public’s views on travel and dining out to help the hospitality industry navigate change.
  • A data journal to track evictions during the pandemic and inform tenant advocacy organizations.
  • A city indicators dashboard to determine which Wilmington communities are the most affected by COVID.
  • An interactive wastewater dashboard to help the city stay ahead of viral trends.
  • A high-tech virtual meeting space, complete with augmented and virtual reality, where collaborators can share information.

For more information, toviewthe dashboard or watch the Feb. 26 presentation, visit https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6772148848157626368.

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