FSA Partner Spotlight 2017 Archive

Welcome to the FSA Partner Spotlight 2017 Archive! To see our current Spotlight features, check out the main FSA Partner Spotlight page. Our partners are using innovative programs, creative events, and effective initiatives to help facilitate financial aid awareness, increase Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) completion, and assist borrowers with repayment. We are excited to showcase and celebrate the best practices of our partners.


This page is not an endorsement of any particular district, school, or organization, but simply a space to share the outreach efforts of various entities. If you are interested in being featured in the FSA Partner Spotlight, please contact fsapartners@ed.gov.


AGUILA Youth Leadership Institute, Inc.–Phoenix, AZ
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education–Washington, DC
Milwaukee Public Schools–Milwaukee, WI
Alabama Possible: Cash for College–Birmingham, AL
West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission–West Virginia
College Goal New York–Bronx, NY

AGUILA Youth Leadership Institute, Inc.–Phoenix, AZ

AGUILA Youth Leadership Institute, Inc. is a college access organization carefully designed to support students and families through the college-going process by providing a greater level of understanding and comfort in a culturally accepting space. AGUILA primarily serves first-generation, low-income, and Latino youth and conducts financial aid sessions for both students and parents in English and Spanish to help them complete the FAFSA form and find a way to make college affordable. AGUILA hosts an innovative and effective event called the Scholarship Overnight Search (SOS). This three-day experience gives students the opportunity to have fun and learn at this school-based sleepover where they play games, attend workshops, apply for scholarships, and work on their résumés. SOS is an example of how organizations can create a unique program to best meet the needs of the students they serve. Check out this video of the positive impact AGUILA has on its students.

Group of AGUILA students giving each other a high five.

Group of AGUILA students giving each other a high five.

AGUILA students taking notes in an auditorium.

AGUILA students taking notes in an auditorium.


The Office of the State Superintendent of Education–Washington, DC

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is the state education agency for the District of Columbia (DC) and serves all students in public and public charter schools in the district. OSSE manages the DC FAFSA Completion Initiative that encourages schools and community-based organizations (CBOs) to create a culture of FAFSA completion among the students and set a FAFSA completion goal to increase the proportion of their high school seniors who complete the FAFSA form by three percent from the prior year. In order to support the efforts of the schools and CBOs, OSSE created a FAFSA Portal that provides student-level FAFSA completion data to designated counselors and a DC FAFSA Completion Toolkit that features a plethora of financial aid resources. The initiative supported schools and CBOs in planning and implementing numerous completion events throughout DC and sent Federal Student Aid publications and OSSE posters to local high schools. OSSE celebrates the progress and success of all schools and CBOs that make significant gains in FAFSA completion by identifying three of the most successful sites: "MVP" (the highest FAFSA completion rate through March 31), "Most Improved" (improved their FAFSA completion rate the most compared to last year through March 31), and "Biggest Boost" (largest week-to-week improvement in FAFSA forms completed). OSSE awards the winners with a trophy and applauds each school or CBO in a press release, on social media, and on its website. This initiative shows ways to support school and CBO staff and reward their efforts.

Students interacting with OSSE representative at a college fair.

Students interacting with OSSE representative at a college fair.

Students listening to presentation about college.

Students listening to presentation about college.

OSSE flyer encouraging students to Complete Your FAFSA: Cash for College."

OSSE flyer encouraging students to "Complete Your FAFSA: Cash for College."


Milwaukee Public Schools–Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) organized a unified effort to increase FAFSA completion. The district noted many barriers to completion including that parents refused to share financial information due to misconceptions about the FAFSA process. MPS School Counseling Curriculum Specialist Ophelia King and her team of school counselors collaborated with higher education institutions and youth-serving and community-based organizations to break down these barriers by spreading FAFSA awareness and outreach beyond the schools and into the community in order to connect with families in more familiar and trusted spaces.

With support from a grant funded by Milwaukee Succeeds, MPS created a partnership with the community to more effectively engage students and parents in the FAFSA process. This increased the MPS FAFSA completion rate to 64.9% in the 2016–17 school year, up from 49.9% in the 2015–16 school year.

MPS proclaimed October as FAFSA Frenzy Kickoff Month and commenced the activities with an address from the Milwaukee mayor at the MPS College Access Center. MPS organized an array of programming, including FAFSA training for school and community leaders, completion events for students and parents at the schools and in the community, and school incentive programs to celebrate students who completed the FAFSA form. MPS created a culture of FAFSA completion that brought various partners together to get students and families ready and excited for FAFSA season.

Ronald Reagan High School principal and school counselors kick off FAFSA Frenzy

Ronald Reagan High School principal and school counselors kick off FAFSA Frenzy.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett at MPS College Access Center

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett at MPS College Access Center

FSA Outreach Specialist with students at Bayview High School

Federal Student Aid Outreach Specialist with students at Bayview High School


Alabama Possible: Cash for College–Birmingham, AL

The Cash for College program at Alabama Possible primarily serves minority, first-generation, and low-income students in Birmingham City Schools. Cash for College equips students with the resources and relationships needed to successfully prepare for college. During the school year, Cash for College provides FAFSA completion workshops during school hours and operates a competition among the Birmingham City high schools to drive FAFSA completion. Schools with the highest percentage and the largest increase in FAFSA completion are awarded $500 and $1,000 grants. Cash for College also utilizes student ambassadors within each of their partner schools. Ambassadors are trained to increase awareness and encourage their peers to fill out FAFSA forms, and the ambassadors whose schools improve the most are awarded $100 stipends. Over the summer, Cash for College manages a Drop-In Center, where peer mentors help students complete the FAFSA form, submit verification requirements, and send other necessary forms to their colleges. The Drop-In Center also hosts pop-up locations at public libraries and community centers around the city. Cash for College sends text reminders to students and uses social media platforms to share important articles, events, and deadlines. In 2013–14, the year before this intervention started, FAFSA completion in Birmingham City Schools was at 39%. When Cash for College was launched during the 2014–15 school year, FAFSA completion rose to 49%. During the 2016–17 school year, 60% of Birmingham City Schools students filed FAFSA forms—a 54% increase from 2013–14 to 2016–17. This increase in FAFSA completion demonstrates the positive impact of creating school and community partnerships.

Group of Alabama Possible students sharing their knowledge of financial aid.

Group of Alabama Possible students sharing their knowledge of financial aid.

Alabama Possible students completing the FAFSA<sup>®</sup> form.

Alabama Possible students completing the FAFSA® form.


West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission–West Virginia

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC) is the state agency responsible for the administration of $90 million in state financial aid. HEPC collaborates with high school counselors and college access providers throughout the state to conduct financial aid nights and FAFSA workshops. HEPC noticed that it was often difficult to get parents to come to the high schools, so this past year they implemented an innovative approach to overcome this obstacle. They drove school buses equipped with Wifi and volunteers directly into the community in the evenings to increase access to FAFSA completion assistance. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of their outreach, HEPC developed a reporting tool to inform stakeholders of the FAFSA completion rates at each high school and display which activities are having the most impact. HEPC pairs Federal Student Aid's FAFSA Completion by High School data with enrollment data from each high school to calculate percentages. Stakeholders have access to reports of FAFSA completion by high school, FAFSA completion by county, a heat map by county, progress to the school's FAFSA completion goal, a comparison to last year at the same point in time, and many other reports. High school counselors can pair this data with the FAFSA Datashare, through which HEPC provides counselors with data on FAFSA completion by individual student so counselors can focus their outreach efforts. HEPC shows how innovative ideas and data-driven outreach can facilitate FAFSA completion initiatives.

School bus equipped with Wi-Fi to increase access to FAFSA completion in communities.

School bus equipped with Wi-Fi to increase access to FAFSA completion in communities.

West Virginia GEAR UP counselors promoting Cash for College Day.

West Virginia GEAR UP counselors promoting Cash for College Day.

Students at West Side High School wearing their FAFSA shirts.

Students at West Side High School wearing their FAFSA shirts.


College Goal New York–Bronx, NY

College Goal NY is a statewide project that hosts FAFSA completion events in areas of high financial need and low FAFSA completion rates. In addition to conducting the traditional FAFSA completion sites, College Goal NY in the Bronx created Bound for Success (B4S), a program to generate a culture of FAFSA completion in the community. The coordinators partnered with Federal Student Aid, the Bronx Family Support Center of the New York City Department of Education, and the Office of the Bronx Borough to create a grassroots initiative to target District 8 high schools in the Bronx where FAFSA completion was at 42% in the 2015–16 school year. The goal was to collaborate with entities across the board to make FAFSA completion a priority and get parents and students informed and excited about the FAFSA through a weekend of activities. B4S started with a kickoff event that included music, guest speakers, and networking, bringing parents and students from all over the Bronx to meet with local and school officials and discuss what they needed to complete the FAFSA form and prepare for college. The following day, FAFSA completion stations were available for students and parents, with volunteers providing hands-on assistance. Prior to the weekend events, high school counselors and college access providers received information and training to help students and parents during B4S. Creating a collaborative campaign helped College Goal NY coordinators in the Bronx get everyone in their community involved in FAFSA awareness and completion, and their story was even picked up by the local news.

Students at B4S with a Federal Student Aid Outreach Specialist.

Students at B4S with a Federal Student Aid Outreach Specialist.

College Goal NY Bronx Coordinators on the WABC TV show Tiempo with Joe Torres.

College Goal NY Bronx Coordinators on the WABC TV show Tiempo with Joe Torres.

Students from Leham High School in the Bronx at B4S College Fair.

Students from Leham High School in the Bronx at B4S College Fair.