NCAN selected 25 U.S. cities to receive grants up to $40,000 each for the 2018-19 FAFSA Completion Challenge. The work within each city was led by a mix of school districts, postsecondary institutions, community-based organizations, and foundations.
Through this project, generously funded by The Kresge Foundation and Ascendium Education Group, NCAN challenged each of the grant recipients to increase their 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 focused on cities with baseline FAFSA completion rates below the national average.
“The 2016-17 Challenge demonstrated that cities could achieve significant progress in just one school year by working collaboratively across sectors to give students the FAFSA completion support they need,” said Caroline Altman Smith, Kresge’s deputy director for its Education program. “This is a high-leverage investment for philanthropy because the FAFSA enables students to tap into huge amounts of government resources that often go unclaimed.”
Completion of the FAFSA may help predict a student's success in postsecondary education. Ninety percent of high school seniors who complete FAFSA attend college directly after high school, compared to just 55% of FAFSA non-completers.
"[We are] pleased to join our Kresge colleagues in supporting the FAFSA Completion Challenge because of the opportunity to spread evidence-based strategies for FAFSA completion to more communities,” said Amy Kerwin, Ascendium's vice president – education philanthropy. “Successful cities are learning to use data to target the right support to the right students at the right time. We want to help even more school districts understand how to help all their seniors complete this vital step to entering postsecondary education.”
In September, NCAN announced the winners of the 2018-19 Challenge at its national conference in Indianapolis. Five grantee cities received awards for their outstanding efforts to boost FAFSA completion.
The grand prize winner of the 2018-19 FAFSA Completion Challenge is Arizona’s Mesa Public Schools.
Mesa implemented several creative strategies to help more of its students file the FAFSA, but a major key to the district’s success was its use of peer coaches. These coaches were recruited by school staff to spread the word among their peers about FASFA completion, its importance, and where to get help with the financial aid application process.
As the grand prize winner, Mesa Public Schools received $100,000 to continue its FAFSA completion efforts.
Four additional districts or organizations received awards:
First Runner-Up: Denton Independent School District (Denton, TX) – $25,000
Excellence in Overcoming Barriers and Perseverance Award: Rochester Education Foundation (Rochester, NY) – $10,000
Excellence in Community-Based Leadership Award: Citizens for Educational Excellence (Corpus Christi, TX) – $10,000
Excellence in Training and Professional Development Award: Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (West Valley City, UT) – $10,000
Here are all of the cities and organizations that participated in the 2018-19 Challenge:
Baltimore, MD: Baltimore City Public Schools
Charleston, SC: Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative
Corpus Christi, TX: Citizens for Educational Excellence
Denton, TX: Denton Independent School District
Fort Wayne, IN: Northeast Indiana Foundation
Fort Worth, TX: Fort Worth Independent School District
Grand Prairie, TX: Grand Prairie Independent School District
Irving, TX: Irving Independent School District
Kent, WA: Puget Sound College & Career Network (Puget Sound Educational Service District)
Mesa, AZ: Mesa Public Schools
Milwaukee, WI: Milwaukee Public Schools
Mobile, AL: Mobile Area Education Foundation
Odessa, TX: Odessa College
Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma College Assistance Program
Palm Bay City, FL: Brevard Public Schools
Reno, NV: Truckee Meadows Community College
Rochester, NY: Rochester Education Foundation
Round Rock, TX: Round Rock Independent School District
San Diego, CA: The Regents of the University of California/San Diego and Imperial Counties Cal-SOAP
Savannah, GA: University System of Georgia
South Bend, IN: United Way of St. Joseph County
Tucson, AZ: The Metropolitan Education Commission
Tyler, TX: Tyler Area Business Education Council
Vancouver, WA: Vancouver Public Schools
West Valley City, UT: Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority
Key Practices and Takeaways
For other cities, communities, or school districts looking to boost FAFSA completion rates, the project evaluator identified key practices common among successful FAFSA Completion Challenge grantees. We will continue to add to this blog series.
ASA, the 2018-19 FAFSA Completion Challenge evaluator, produced a full report on their findings. That report can be found here, along with case studies of five of the grantee sites. These case studies highlight the promising practices and challenges each site experienced, along with some lessons learned.