Last year, NCAN selected 25 U.S. cities to participate in the 2018-19 FAFSA Completion Challenge. Through this project, generously funded by The Kresge Foundation and Ascendium Education Group, NCAN challenges each of the grant recipient cities to increase its FAFSA completion rates by at least 5 percentage points for the graduating high school class of 2019. In an effort to address equity gaps, this challenge specifically focuses on cities with current FAFSA completion rates below the national average.
ASA Research, the 2018-19 FAFSA Completion Challenge project evaluator, is monitoring the 25 sites’ activities and results throughout the grant and will highlight strategies of interest through this blog series.
Most of the challenge sites are using social media strategies as part of their efforts to increase FAFSA completion. We interviewed three sites with active social media strategies: Fort Worth, Mobile, and Reno, all of which have found success with different types of social media strategies.
Mobile, which tracks 14 high schools’ progress through an online dashboard, has observed a positive correlation between level of social media activity and FAFSA completion rates. Reno found a dramatic increase in event attendance over last year after using geofencing – a technology used to tailor mobile advertising (described below) – to promote the event. Fort Worth supplements its use of social media with more traditional media usage and in-person outreach to students and families through events and posters, since not everyone is engaged online.
Below are summaries of each site’s social media strategies:
Fort Worth Independent School District works with its communications department to post weekly on social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter). This strategy includes posting original video content. Fort Worth and its partners post information about events, monthly principal awards for schools with the highest number of FAFSA completions, student drawings that award prizes to FAFSA completers, and information for parents such as FAFSA “myth busters.” Fort Worth also distributes information through an internal electronic newsletter.
Mobile, led by the Mobile Area Education Foundation, keeps a regular schedule for posting messages to social media – mostly Facebook, since it allows for tracking of shares and likes. Mobile primarily targets parents through social media, as they are the “holder of the [FAFSA] document.” Mobile also purchases paid Facebook ads, which allow for targeting specific demographic populations in the geographic area.
Reno, led by Truckee Meadows Community College, started with traditional media and geofencing in the fall, which were successful. The site wanted to reach the community more broadly, however, and later added social media strategies including Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube videos in both English and Spanish. Videos are posted to social media channels including Twitter and the institution’s Facebook page and financial aid office’s page, and are shared with each high school’s Facebook page. The site lead also includes video links in the monthly newsletter to high school counselors, and shares them with school district partners and elected officials.
Mobile Area Education Foundation’s director of strategic outcomes, Chandra Scott, has been learning about social media through her challenge grant activities, and shares the following tips for posting on Facebook:
Create posts with images and humorous memes to draw in views, and tie them to holidays and other events on the school calendar.
Schedule Facebook posts ahead of time for a regular day and time each week. Mobile has found the optimal time when people are most likely to view posts is a Tuesday or Thursday at 10 or 11 a.m.
Tag schools and colleges, so parents who have already liked those Facebook pages will see the posts on their timeline. This will also allow schools to share the posts with wider audiences.
Send posts to counselors and teachers who can then forward within their buildings or make school announcements around the post topic.
Set up a shared drive with social media images and files so partners can create their own posts.
Set aside time for social media each week on your work calendar.
In addition to social media channels, sites are engaging in geofencing and texting to reach parents.
Geofencing: Reno works with an advertising agency that specializes in community college advertising, including geofencing. Geofencing targets specific geographic locations and demographic characteristics through ads on mobile phone apps that have GPS capabilities. The idea is to reach individuals through apps they use frequently, in the hope that they will attend the events being advertised after viewing the information multiple times. Reno’s geofencing campaign was relatively low-cost and allowed them to more easily target specific populations than can traditional media. The geofencing ad for an October event had a total of 306,850 impressions (multiple views per person) and attendance at the event increased from 290 families last year to about 400 this year.
Texting: Fort Worth and Mobile are also engaging families through texting services. Mobile signed up 952 parents to receive texts about FAFSA completion by reaching out to them at high school football games, and only seven have opted out of the text service since October. The texting services can send a message to the entire list or to parents from specific schools. In Fort Worth, each school has access to the text messaging service, which allows them to set up group lists for seniors or other specific populations. The frequency of messaging varies by campus; some schools send out messages weekly, others monthly.