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Recent Publications

The Growing Gap, 2020 Edition: Public Higher Education's Declining Affordability for Pell Grant Recipients

Among public two- and four-year institutions, there were declines in the percentage of affordable institutions as well as increases in affordability gaps from 2013-14 to 2017-18. By 2017-18, just 25% of four-year public institutions were affordable nationally, and the average affordability gap was $2,406. In the same year, 45% of two-year public institutions were affordable, and the average affordability gap was $640.

Explore the full analysis and visit the interactive Growing Gap dashboard.

Immediate Next Steps for Helping High School Seniors Transition to a 2-/4-Year College or Certificate Program (April 2020)

This guide outlines five concrete actions district and school leaders and personnel can take right now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, to help their senior class effectively transition to postsecondary education.

Read the full guide.

The Data That Matter and the Plans that Work: New Districtwide Approaches to Student Success Beyond High School (March 2020)

This brief examines five school districts and partner organizations using big ideas to improve their students' postsecondary outcomes and discusses steps for replication for others who want to do the same.

Learn more about the To & Through Advising Challenge.

Read the full report.

Understanding Hispanic Student Academic Undermatch & College Completion (March 2020)

A team of graduate school researchers from the George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration dove into a project around the phenomenon of academic undermatch, specifically among Hispanic students served by NCAN members.

Explore the report's findings online.  |  Read the full report (PDF).

Publication Archive

Topics:  FAFSA  |  NCAN Member Benchmarking Project  |  Policy  |  Working with StudentsOther


FAFSA Completion by District Poverty Level Across the United States (December 2019)

According to this analysis, in 37 states, the average FAFSA completion rate in higher-income school districts surpassed that of lower-income school districts.

An Analysis of the Relationship Between School District Poverty and FAFSA Completion, June 2016-2018 (October 2018)

In most states, school districts with higher rates of children living in poverty have lower FAFSA completion rates.

Moving the Needle on FAFSA Completion (October 2017)

This report discusses how changes to federal financial-aid policy can broaden access to higher education.

An Analysis of the Relationship Between School District Poverty and FAFSA Completion in June 2016 and June 2017 (October 2017)

This report takes a closer look at school district FAFSA completion rates and how they are related to district-level poverty rates across and within states.

Increasing FAFSA Completion Among Low-Income Students: Lessons From Four States That Are Doing It Well (August 2017)

This qualitative study analyzes FAFSA completion initiatives within California, Minnesota, Nevada, and Utah.

NCAN-Member Pulse Check: FAFSA Verification Flexibility (July 2017)

Verification alternatives made the FAFSA 2017-18 verification process easier and faster for students who were able to take advantage of them, according to 87 college access professionals from NCAN member organizations.

Half the FAFSA: Cutting the Red Tape to Postsecondary Study Aid (January 2017)

This report outlines one possible FAFSA simplification effort, its costs, and the results of experimental user-testing.

NCAN Member Benchmarking Project

The Benchmarking Project is helping NCAN learn more about the postsecondary enrollment and graduation rates of students served by our members.

Closing the College Graduation Gap: Enrollment and Completion Outcomes by Race/Ethnicity and Gender (June 2019)

The brief uses data on students from the high school class of 2011 from NCAN’s Benchmarking Project to examine enrollment and completion rate outcomes and compare them to a national sample from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC). Read a blog post about the findings.

NCAN Benchmarking Breakdown: Which Services Matter Most? (January 2018)

A team of Master’s candidates in the Public Administration program at the George Washington University worked with NCAN to analyze a 300,000-student dataset to determine which college access services and service pairs offered by NCAN members correlate with an increased likelihood of postsecondary enrollment and/or completion. Read a blog post about their findings.


The Growing Gap: Public Higher Education's Declining Affordability for Low-Income Students (May 2019)

In 2016-17, just 48% of community colleges in our sample were affordable for the average Pell Grant recipient. Only 27% of four-year public institutions were affordable.

White Paper: FAFSA Verification: Good Government or Red Tape? (November 2018)

This paper outlines what verification is and how the process impacts students. We also offer policy recommendations to lessen the negative effects of verification and help more students access aid.

White Paper: Shutting Low-Income Students Out of Public Four-Year Higher Education (May 2018)

An astounding 75% of residential four-year institutions – including 90% of flagship institutions – failed our affordability test for the average Pell Grant recipient.

College Access and Success Strategies That Promote Early Awareness in Middle-Level Grades (July 2017)

This white paper offers guidance on how to equitably design CSAs, early commitment scholarships, place-based promise programs, and informational campaigns to best serve low-income populations of families with middle-grade students.

Working with Students

Keys to Success: NCAN Members’ Postsecondary Success Services (June 2019)

A team of Master of Public Policy candidates at the George Washington University worked with NCAN to examine the nature of postsecondary success services provided by members and whether students’ outcomes vary depending on the types of success services they receive. Read a blog post about their findings.

White Paper: Connecting College and Career Success: Lessons on Advising, Data and Partnerships (June 2017)

In 2017, NCAN's annual Spring Training series focused on connecting career success with NCAN members’ college access and success services. This white paper focuses on the lessons learned from this training series.

Idea Incubator Series: Managing the Database Lifecycle and Ensuring Quality Data (June 2017)

Idea Incubator Series: Incorporating Fit and Match Into College Advising and Program Data (April 2017)

Financial Aid Eligibility Mindsets Among Low-Income Students: Why Do Some Believe They Can't Receive Financial Aid for College? (October 2016)

Previous research has suggested that most students who do not apply for financial aid do not think they are eligible. However, our research told a different story. In general, participants who did not apply for financial aid lacked information about their eligibility.

What Does the Research Say about Early Awareness Strategies for College Access and Success? (March 2016)

This report explores the published literature on early awareness strategies for college-going. Given that published literature on this subject is sparse, it also includes internal evaluations and program-reported data.

Supporting Best Practices in Student Success: Lessons from the Field (July 2013)

Access to college holds little value for students if they do not stay enrolled and complete a college credential. With a grant from TG Philanthropy, NCAN assisted four member organizations in establishing or expanding programs to support students during college.

Preparing to Dream: A College Access and Success Initiative Uniting Five Houston-Area School Districts (January 2013)

Preparing to Dream, a four-year initiative (2007-2011) funded by the Houston Endowment, built a college-going culture in five Houston-area school districts.

Using Data and Inquiry to Build Equity-Focused College Going Cultures (September 2011)

The Student Success Toolkit Demonstration Project helped teams of school-based practitioners heighten their awareness of inequities in the rates of college-preparedness and college-going among their students at two Boston high schools.


The Power of Connecting Children's Savings Accounts and College Access-Success Programs (October 2019)

Although Children’s Savings Account (CSA) programs and college access-success programs share a common goal of increasing college-going and college graduation rates, these efforts are often isolated. While we understand that combining or partnering between programs can be challenging, we believe there are powerful incentives for these two fields to align their efforts in states and communities.

White Paper: The Surprising Way Community Foundations Can Transform Students' Lives and Delight Donors (May 2017)

This white paper outlines steps community foundations can take to reach maximum effectiveness and impact with their scholarship funds.