FSA Partner Spotlight Archive

Welcome to the FSA Partner Spotlight 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 complete the FSA Partner Spotlight Interest Form.


2021
Spartanburg Academic Movement
Fostering Success Michigan
John Burton Advocates for Youth
The Institute of Student Loan Advisors
Think College National Coordinating Center, UMASS Boston
First Baptist Church of Glenarden
2020
Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable
West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and Community and Technical College System


2021


Spartanburg Academic Movement

Facebook share button Twitter share button

The Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM), located in Spartanburg, North Carolina, is both a nonprofit organization and a community movement. The organization, funded by private and corporate donations and grants, works to convene action partners in fulfillment of the movement's vision which is economic mobility anchored in academic achievement, countywide, cradle through career. SAM ensures Spartanburg County's children and youth reach academic and life success by convening partners, aligning resources, and driving equity. It is a sustaining commitment across the urban and rural county of 288,000 people to link the numerous resources they already have in place: schools, colleges, and nonprofit educational support partners. This is a commitment to focus their unique missions on persistent and targeted gains in academic achievement at every stage of learning. Visit SAM's website for more information.

What are the FAFSA® completion goals and accomplishments of SAM?

SAM believes that FAFSA® completion is an upstream strategy to increased college enrollment. To help improve the countywide enrollment numbers, SAM works to support the high schools in FAFSA completion. SAM has a data sharing agreement with the South Carolina Tuition and Grants Commission, the state agency that receives the student-level FAFSA data. With this agreement, they're able to provide monthly student-level data to the schools. In addition to monthly data files, they convene monthly calls with the schools that are working on FAFSA completion. This allows for the exchange of ideas across school districts.

SAM also helped set targeted goals for each school that were based on their previous year's FAFSA completion numbers at a particular point in time during the school year. SAM offered financial incentives for schools that met a percentage of that goal. If they met 100% of their goal, they earned $1,000. They also had the opportunity to earn a catered lunch for their guidance/FAFSA team if they met 75% of their goal. Schools were able to use these funds to continue to incentivize completion. For example, several schools purchased gift cards at local restaurants and used them as prizes or giveaways to those who completed the FAFSA application. Each school's progress toward their goal was posted on a data dashboard and shared among the schools to help foster a friendly "competition." Overall, the county surpassed its last year's FAFSA completions.

This coming school year, SAM plans to convene a group of members across the school districts to host continuous improvement workshops with the coalition of the willing high schools in order to help them better think through their continuous improvement strategies heading into next year.

What tools, resources, and/or collaborations contribute to SAM's success?

SAM is one of the few entities in the state to have a data sharing agreement with the South Carolina Tuition and Grants Commission, the statewide agency that receives student-level FAFSA completion data. Each month, SAM receives a data download that shares students' FAFSA status. This information is given to high schools, so they were able to target students individually in their school building to drive FAFSA completion. SAM also utilizes the information on the Federal Student Aid website each week and compares the high schools' completion numbers by using this year's weekly progress to last year's weekly numbers. This real-time data allows schools to make targeted incremental progress.

What challenges do the SAM community face in financial aid awareness and FAFSA® completion?

The pandemic exacerbated many of the challenges that previously existed in the Spartanburg County community. Most of the high schools were closed to outside visitors this past year, so access to financial aid professionals who could answer specific questions about the FAFSA form was a challenge. SAM decided to offer workshops in a safe manner on three college campuses so parents could get in-person help. The data allowed the high schools to know exactly which students needed additional encouragement, support, and resources to complete the form. Guidance counselors called parents and students to recruit them to attend the completion workshops.

SAM strives to use an equity lens in all their work. They heard from several Hispanic families that undocumented parents believed they weren't able to complete the FAFSA form, even if their child was a citizen. SAM worked with a trusted community partner to offer a FAFSA completion workshop with translators and financial aid professionals that helped these families overcome some of the additional barriers that undocumented parents face. First generation students also faced the challenge of navigating this process for the very first time. Many parents were unaware of the importance of completing the FAFSA application, how they can get assistance, and sometimes have anxiety around completing the form.

SAM believes their job is to support the schools in providing data, goals, and fostering collaboration among districts as the schools seek to alleviate many of these concerns.


Fostering Success Michigan

Facebook share button Twitter share button

Fostering Success Michigan (FSM) is a statewide initiative focused on increasing postsecondary access and success for youth with experience in foster care. The initiative provides resources, networking opportunities, and support for students who have experience in foster care and the professionals that serve them. The aim is to build a holistic network that insulates (i.e., strengthens protective factors and reduces risks) the education to career pipeline for this population. The continuous efforts to build support on college campuses, within local communities, and statewide increases access opportunity and advances equity for this resilient population. Visit Fostering Success Michigan's website for more information.

What are the FAFSA® completion goals and accomplishments of FSM?

FSM has developed two important financial aid toolkits about FAFSA completion and financial resource access for students and professionals that outline resources available in Michigan for students with experience in foster care. FSM partnered with Michigan Student Aid to identify over 60 financial aid champions on campuses across the state that can provide on-site support by helping students complete forms, access scholarships, understand tuition and financial aid, and answer questions.

What tools, resources, and/or collaborations contribute to FSM's success?

FSM Network participants include students with experience in foster care, higher education professionals, child welfare professionals, community organizations, supportive adults, philanthropic support, and the business community. FSM has strong partnerships with over 30 campuses across the state providing points of contact and programming support for youth with experience in foster care. FSM also collaborates with Michigan Student Aid, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan Department of Education, and numerous nonprofit and advocacy organizations.

What challenges do the FSM community face in financial aid awareness and FAFSA® completion?

Students with experience in foster care face numerous obstacles related to college access and success. FSM works to ensure that youth in foster care in Michigan know there are resources available to help them pay for and persist in college. FSM links students with those resources. Additionally, FSM provides information about best practices in working with these students and resources available to professionals across the state.

top


John Burton Advocates for Youth

Facebook share button Twitter share button

John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) works statewide to improve the quality of life for California's most vulnerable youth and young adults including foster and homeless youth. JBAY works to achieve its mission through a combination of technical assistance and training, advocacy, and direct support to youth. JBAY's education work has been conducted through the California College Pathways project. Since 2012, JBAY has served as the project manager for this cross-system effort to increase the rates of college enrollment, persistence, and completion for current and former foster youth. JBAY's approach incorporates activities designed to realize improvements to both policy and practice across multiple systems including California's K-12 system, three public post-secondary institutions and state and county child welfare bodies. Visit JBAY's website for more information.

What are the FAFSA® completion goals and accomplishments of JBAY?

In partnership with the California Department of Education's Foster Youth Services Coordinating Program (FYSCP) and the California Community College Chancellor's Office, JBAY has sponsored the CA Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge for the past four years to increase the number of foster youth who are set up for success as they matriculate from high school into college by ensuring that foster youth are accessing financial aid. Foster youth have the lowest rates of college success of any student subgroup and are often most likely to fall through the cracks of broader FAFSA completion efforts. Over the first three years that JBAY sponsored the CA Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge, FAFSA completion rates for foster youth has increased among the students they serve.

What tools, resources, and/or collaborations contribute to JBAY's success?

Efforts are led by county-based FYSCPs in collaboration with local partners including school districts, community-based organizations, child welfare agencies, independent living programs, and local colleges. FYSCPs utilize the state's WebGrants system to track which students have successfully completed a FAFSA form. JBAY provides technical assistance, promotional materials, and other resources to participating counties to support them in this effort. Counties "taking the challenge" are recognized and celebrated throughout the campaign and participating counties have the opportunity to win awards for their exceptional completion rates. JBAY has developed a Financial Aid Guide targeted specifically to foster youth, FAFSA completion posters, and stickers that are distributed across the state. JBAY has also worked closely with the California Student Aid Commission to develop tools to streamline the ability of foster youth programs to monitor FAFSA completion.

What challenges do JBAY community face in financial aid awareness and FAFSA® completion?

Foster youth must contend with the aftermath of trauma, high rates of school mobility, and the absence of family to provide support with college matriculation. These factors combine to create educational attainment rates that are far below those of other students. Foster youth often are not provided the necessary support, guidance, and encouragement to go to college and may receive negative messages from those around them regarding their capacity to be successful in higher education. For the current year, the impact of the pandemic on foster youth has been severe and JBAY is redoubling their efforts to ensure that these students have the opportunity to access financial aid and pursue their education goals.


The Institute of Student Loan Advisors

Facebook share button Twitter share button

The Institute of Student Loan Advisors (TISLA) is a nonprofit founded to ensure that all consumers have access to free, expert, unbiased student loan advice and dispute resolution. TISLA provides plain English resources on their website to help borrowers navigate their options and provide access to those resources without requiring registration or exposure to a barrage of lender advertising. For those that need additional help, they offer free student loan counseling and dispute resolution via email. TISLA's goal is to give borrowers the tools they need to confidently and successfully manage their student loan debt. Visit TISLA's website for more information.

What are the student loan repayment goals of TISLA?

Since launch, TISLA has assisted well over 10,000 borrowers, one on one, with their questions and disputes. Most of the assistance has been around student loan forgiveness programs such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. TISLA helped one of the very first borrowers to receive forgiveness under PSLF. TISLA also works diligently to educate policy makers about the diverse issues among all borrowers.

What tools, resources, and/or collaborations contribute to TISLA's success?

TISLA considers themselves to be a small shop with a sharp focus on helping borrowers manage their student loans, but collaborations are key to robust impact outcomes. TISLA partners with other organizations that serve the same constituencies but address different issues, such as housing or overall financial literacy. Partnering on student loan repayment webinars or online training modules helps these organizations make their programs more robust while helping TISLA increase TISLA outreach. TISLA also partners with other nonprofits whose focus is the "front end" of the financial aid process for projects where financial aid and student loan education is needed on a holistic level. For example, in March 2020, when the coronavirus/COVID-19 emergency started, TISLA partnered with two other well-known nonprofits to develop a free website called studentaidpandemic.org to provide free, up-to-date resources for both students in college and student loan borrowers. TISLA was able to get the site up and running in less than a week and continue to update it with interactive training modules and FAQs as the coronavirus/COVID-19 emergency and the associated guidance has progressed.

What challenges do the TISLA community face in financial aid awareness and student loan repayment?

The biggest barriers to successful student loan management are the lack of borrower education and resources and communication issues with borrowers. The letters and information borrowers receive from their loan holders may be unclear, which could result in unread messages. Successful student loan management is about providing the right information at the right time.

top


Think College National Coordinating Center, UMASS Boston

Facebook share button Twitter share button

The Think College National Coordinating Center provides support, coordination, technical assistance, and training to Transition and Postsecondary Education Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities and other college programs for students with intellectual disabilities nationwide. Visit Think College's website for more information

What are the FAFSA completion goals of Think College?

Think College supports college programs for students with disabilities to apply to be approved as Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) programs. Once approved, this allows the programs to offer access to federal student aid to their students. Requirements for a standard high school diploma and to be matriculated towards a degree are waived for those students who are financially eligible for aid. Think College also educates families and students about the options for federal student aid through webinars, publications, web resources, and social media on a regular basis.

What tools, resources, and/or collaborations contribute to Think College's success?

Think College has an online module that provides guidance through each step of the CTP application process, including downloadable resources. Think College shares information about financial aid access in the family and student sections of its website and informs families and students about the exceptions to typical financial aid access requirements that apply to students with intellectual disabilities attending approved CTP programs.

In addition, the access to federal student aid topic is covered during webinars and other training events on a regular basis.

What challenges do the Think College community face in financial aid awareness and FAFSA completion?

There is confusion and lack of awareness that students with intellectual disabilities that may not have a standard diploma or are matriculated towards a degree can be eligible for federal student aid.

While there are over 300 college programs for students with intellectual disabilities, only 1/3 of these are approved CTP programs, so it can be difficult for students and families to understand why financial aid is available at some programs but not others. Given the unique nature of these programs and the exceptions and variants from typical access to aid, there can be some confusion at schools' financial aid offices about the program and how it works.

For example, there can be confusion regarding awarding financial aid for audited classes or to students who are not degree seeking, although both are allowable under the CTP regulations.

Students attending an approved CTP program are only eligible for Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and work-study funds. They are not eligible for federal student loans.

top


First Baptist Church of Glenarden

Facebook share button Twitter share button

First Baptist Church of Glenarden (FBCG), led by Pastor John K. Jenkins Sr., is a vibrant, Bible-based church located on three campuses in Prince George's County, MD. With more than 11,000 active members, FBCG is one of the largest congregations in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. It has impacted both local and global communities through its 100-plus ministries, outreach, and educational programs. The Financial Assistance Program, a component of the Education Ministry, provides need-based financial support to FBCG members who meet the program requirements. Visit FBCG's College Financial Assistance website for more information.

What are the FAFSA completion goals of FBCG?

Since 2016, FBCG's Financial Assistance Program has required students to submit the first page of their Student Aid Report (SAR) as a part of their FBCG Financial Assistance application. This ensures that the undergraduate students served complete and submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) applications in a timely manner and become familiar with the SAR.

What tools, resources, and/or collaborations contribute to FBCG's success?

Each January, the FBCG Financial Assistance Program invites U.S. Department of Education Senior Outreach Coordinator Fred Stennis to participate in its Making College Affordable information session. Mr. Stennis provides a comprehensive presentation for students and parents on completing the FAFSA form and dispelling myths about federal student aid. Mr. Stennis also superbly responds to questions from the participants on the unique challenges that they have encountered completing the FAFSA form and receiving federal student aid. The FAFSA information presented is also distributed to the participants and registrants so that they have an opportunity to review the content once the session ends. Mr. Stennis' presentation has been distributed to more than 800 participants who either registered for or attended the 2020 or 2021 information sessions. In addition, the FBCG Education Ministry sponsors an annual College Symposium that provides workshops on how to secure private grants and scholarships for college.

What challenges do FBCG community face in financial aid awareness and FAFSA completion?

Several FBCG ministries provide forums that promote financial literacy and help parishioners and the community to overcome the challenges of funding a college education. The most common challenges that the FBCG ministries and community confront are exposure to the various facets of financial aid, obtaining parental assistance for completing the FAFSA form, paying or repaying college costs, and identifying sources for grants and scholarships. Through the Financial Assistance Program, College Symposium, and Prosperity Partners, the FBCG Education and Training Department offers workshops that address these challenges.

top


Search for tools and resources to help you or your students learn about financial aid for college. You can even filter resources by audience type and search resources specifically for Spanish speakers.


2020


Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable

Facebook share button Twitter share button

The Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable (PCPR) seeks to strengthen a community of college access and success practitioners and advocates who believe in the potential of all individuals and help students navigate the path to and through higher education. PCPR provide tools, resources, and opportunities for discourse; support leadership development in the field; and seek to bridge the gap between policy, research, and practice in the area of college access and completion. Visit PCPR's website for more information.

What are the FAFSA completion goals of PCPR?

PCPR was a foundational partner with the School District of Philadelphia in 2017 and established the district's FAFSA completion initiative. This effort continued through the next two FAFSA completion seasons.

What tools, resources, and/or collaborations contribute to PCPRs success?

Over the past 15 years, PCPR has coordinated FAFSA professional development training conducted by Federal Student Aid for the PCPR network and Philadelphia community. Additionally, PCPR, with the support of the PA Student Financial Aid Administrators, has conducted financial aid training focusing on specific aspects of the financial aid process for college access and success practitioners and advocates.

What challenges do PCPR community face in financial aid awareness and FAFSA completion?

Philadelphia and the surrounding southeast Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey region have a significant population of low to moderate income households. Most do not have the means to pay for postsecondary education. The vast majority of the Philadelphia's economic workforce requires some level of postsecondary education completion (degrees and/or certificates). To meet the demands of families affording to pay for postsecondary education and workforce demands of individuals having a degree/certification, financial aid has become a critical and necessary resource.


West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and Community and Technical College System

Facebook share button Twitter share button

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and Community and Technical College System are state agencies dedicated to making postsecondary education more attainable for West Virginians. Through a network of 12 baccalaureate institutions and 9 community and technical colleges, the agencies serve more than 70,000 undergraduate and almost 12,000 graduate students by helping to strengthen their access to college, supporting their success in earning degrees, and solidifying their positive impact on the state after graduation. Through West Virginia's Climb initiative, the agencies are working to equip 60% of West Virginians with a certificate or degree by 2030—nearly doubling the percentage of working-aged residents with a credential over the next decade.

What are the FAFSA completion goals of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and Community and Technical College System?

West Virginia has set a high school FAFSA completion goal of 65% for the class of 2021.

What tools, resources, and/or collaborations contribute to the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and Community and Technical College System's success?

The agencies utilized several tools to help West Virginia reach its FAFSA completion goal. They publish FAFSA completion rates for each high school, so counselors know where they stand in their grassroots efforts to help students complete the FAFSA form. Counselors also have access to a FAFSA Datashare application, so they know which students have a complete FAFSA form, an incomplete FAFSA form, or no FAFSA form on file.

The agencies individually recognize high schools as "College Access Champions" for meeting the statewide college access outreach goals. The agencies utilize a texting campaign to send timely reminders to students to complete the FAFSA form and other college access messaging; students are able to respond to the text with questions so representatives can guide them through the college-going process. The office has implemented computer screenshare technology to help students and families complete the FAFSA form in a secure and safe environment. To support all of these efforts in a more virtual environment, the agencies and higher education institutions are partners in Governor Jim Justice's Kids Connect initiative, which offers more than 800 free Wi-Fi hotspots for students across the state.

What challenges do the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and Community and Technical College System community face in financial aid awareness and FAFSA completion?

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and Community and Technical College System used to rely on face-to-face workshops for financial aid awareness and FAFSA completion; however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have transitioned to electronic methods to inform and assist families with the financial aid process. For example, they are launching a series of 20 financial aid webinars starting in September 2020 through spring 2021 and offering extended hours to answer FAFSA-related questions by phone.

top