On July 10 and 11, NCAN hosted its first #FormYourFuture FAFSA Completion Institute. More than 150 college access advocates and professionals from 32 states and 78 cities gathered in Dallas to attend the two-day event.
“It’s important for my community to increase FAFSA completion, because it is a direct effect on the college-going rate,” LaToya Young, executive director at Tyler Area Business Education Council, said during an interview.
Filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a gateway to many financial aid sources to pay for college. Only 57% of high school seniors applied for the 2019-20 FAFSA cycle by June 28. Every year, billions of financial aid dollars are left on the table by students who do not complete the FAFSA.
The goal of the gathering was to share effective strategies from communities that have increased FAFSA completion rates, encourage new partnerships, and promote adoption of practices that will raise FAFSA completion rates in new communities.
The event included training, coaching, and planning time for those in attendance to get the most out of the experience. There were presentations from several communities that shared their successful strategies and efforts in boosting FAFSA completion rates, which included:
Engaging partners in FAFSA completion: We have “created a college-going culture in Mobile, Alabama" by getting interdenominational alliances to share the value of higher education with their communities, said Chandra Scott, director of strategic outcomes from Mobile Area Education Foundation.
Training and capacity building for FAFSA completion: Nina Stemm of Vancouver Public Schools said that they found “small-group trainings on FAFSA” for their teachers and students the most successful. They also encouraged their teachers to incorporate FAFSA filing during their class time to get students to begin the application process.
Reaching students and families through strategic communication and events: Kelly Leon, communications officer at the Kresge Foundation, presented on how to use social media and traditional media to facilitate FAFSA completion. Leon said that the best way to reach your audience is by knowing who your audience is, and catering to their needs and ways of communication.
Accessing and using data to increase FAFSA completion:Iowa College Aid fosters partnerships with the Iowa Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education to get data on the students who have yet to complete the FAFSA. High school counselors are able to identify and target individual students to help them file for the FAFSA before graduation.
Thank you to everyone who was able to join NCAN for the first #FormYourFuture FAFSA Completion Institute, to Ascendium Education and The Kresge Foundation for sponsoring the event, and to Communities Foundation of Texas for hosting. In the coming weeks, NCAN will share additional in-depth blog posts and webinars about specific strategies.