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.


2019
FAFSA® Completion Challenge Grant Initiative
Austin, TX
Columbus, OH
Jackson, MS
2018
Lela FAFSA® Completion & College Access—Louisiana
Brink—Tulsa, OK
Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS)—Baltimore, MD
2017
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


2019


FAFSA® Completion Challenge Grant Initiative

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The Kresge Foundation partnered with the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) to launch the FAFSA Completion Challenge Grant Initiative during the 2016–17 school year. The grant was designed to support metro-wide efforts to increase FAFSA completion among high school seniors. Sixty-eight eligible cities applied for the grant and twenty-two cities were selected. Cities selected for the initiative were provided with grants of up to $55,000 and opportunities for technical assistance from NCAN.

After the challenge ended in June 2017, the cities with the highest and largest increases in FAFSA completion rates for high school seniors were eligible to share an additional $300,000 in prizes. Most of the participating cities increased their FAFSA completion rates over previous years. The average FAFSA completion rate for high school seniors in these cities increased to 54.6 percent.

We wanted to highlight three grant winners who implemented strategies to increase FAFSA completion in their cities: Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; and Jackson, Mississippi.


For more information about the initiative and the other grant-winning cities, check out Higher Ed Insight.


Austin, TX

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Austin's project was spearheaded by the Austin Chamber of Commerce to include the Austin Independent School District and four smaller districts surrounding the city. The Austin Chamber of Commerce helped increase the average FAFSA completion rate from 50 percent in 2015 to 58 percent in June 2017.

Austin's project utilized data monitoring to track student and parent FAFSA form progress. The Austin Chamber of Commerce also extended data capability to their college access partners: Breakthrough Austin, College Forward, and Con Mi Madre. They commissioned OneLogos to design a system that would provide their partners with information similar to that available to high school counselors. Although the need to develop data sharing agreements and technical capacity limitations slowed the progress of this effort, the data became available for the 2018–19 school year.

Another key aspect of Austin's project was a large-scale integrated outreach effort that included a mass media marketing campaign, direct text messages to students and families, and bilingual outreach to assist the city's large Spanish-speaking population through the process. They also used social media efforts focused on peer-to-peer communication with students at each participating high school competing for prizes based on registrations for FAFSA completion events and high school-level FAFSA form completions.


Columbus, OH

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As one of the top 100 largest school districts in the U.S. and Ohio's largest urban school district, Columbus City Schools had fewer than half of its seniors submitting a FAFSA form. To address this gap, I Know I Can (IKIC) and several community partners worked together to launch a campaign using numerous strategies but specifically implementing targeted follow-up, application support, and culturally relevant programming to exceed its goal and increase their FAFSA completion rate to 59 percent.

Using data was a critically important element of Columbus' success. Lists were pulled weekly to identify which students intended on attending college but had not filled out a FAFSA form so counselors knew exactly who to follow up with and assist with completion. Data also helped IKIC identify which students had incomplete FAFSA forms in order to assist them individually and resolve issues.

Further, through a relationship with the local nonprofit organizations serving the Latino, Somali, and Bhutanese Nepali communities in Columbus, IKIC worked to develop a series of workshops in locations convenient for the individual communities where families could obtain information about college and the FAFSA process in their native languages. Each of these community partners provided critical translation support for outreach efforts at different points of the project.


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.


Jackson, MS

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The Get2College Program of the Woodward Hines Foundation worked directly with Jackson Public Schools to provide extensive technical expertise on FAFSA completion and bring together a coalition of key partners from across Jackson. Jackson increased its FAFSA completion rate by 7 percentage points to 49.8 percent. At the start of the project, many counselors did not know about the FAFSA completion rates or were unaware that they could access student-level data. Get2College worked to support access to this information and provided incentives to jumpstart friendly competition among schools with a sense of accountability on applicant numbers. Also, Jackson's marketing campaign slogan, "First you haf-ta FAFSA," was put on t-shirts and flyers and used on local radio spots. It was an important element to launching the effort and raising broad awareness.

Additionally, partnerships were critical to this collective effort. The Mississippi Office of Financial Aid gave access to crucial data. Numerous higher education institutions and Phi Theta Kappa yielded volunteers that helped students one-on-one. Many organizations—Chamber of Commerce to Parents for Public Schools, 100 Black Men, and the Mississippi Department of Education—contributed to the effort. Some of these partnerships have resulted in lasting change as new initiatives like the Get2College Volunteer Corps.

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2018


Lela FAFSA® Completion & College Access—Louisiana

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Lela FAFSA Completion & College Access provides free FAFSA completion and college access resources to all Louisiana residents to ensure success on their path to and through college. Lela specialists coordinate and conduct FAFSA completion events at high schools, provide one-on-one support at Lela's College Planning Center, and offer FAFSA assistance over the phone through their FAFSA helpline, 1-844-GOFAFSA. Lela uses @AskLela on social media to share scholarships, deadlines, and tips, and to repost Federal Student Aid content. Lela also creates custom publications for students and parents. The FAFSA Completion and College Planning Guide, which is distributed to 50,000 high school seniors, and The Parent's Guide to Planning and Paying include a planning calendar, FAFSA and FSA ID tips, and other information to support students and parents through the financial aid and college application process. School counselors can order these publications and access other downloadable electronic resources in the counselor section of Lela's site.

In order to increase student incentive to complete the FAFSA form, Lela launched a FAFSA Completion Scholarship campaign last year. The scholarship is a random monthly drawing for students who have submitted the FAFSA form and registered with Lela online. It is a $1,000 one-time award given to 10 students once they provide their FAFSA confirmation page and verification of enrollment in college.

In addition to addressing student incentive, Lela also noted parent participation as a barrier to FAFSA completion. By collecting students' contact information on a custom student profile card or online through scholarship registration, Lela specialists can easily follow up with students and contact parents to walk them through the FAFSA form line by line. Lela is a member of the Louisiana Department of Education's Financial Aid Working Group and partner in NCAN's FAFSA Completion Challenge Grant for Baton Rouge.


Brink—Tulsa, OK

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Brink is a group of 25 Tulsa high school students, associated with the Cohort 9 branch of the Youth Philanthropy Initiative, who partnered with ImpactTulsa to increase postsecondary enrollment and FAFSA completion rates. Brink identified the challenges students face in the FAFSA process and recommended that high schools create a steering committee of counselors, teachers, administrators, and student leaders to increase awareness of the FAFSA form.

Brink wanted to create a college-going culture in high schools by engaging all constituents in the school district and creating a collaborative effort. In order to support students and the schools' steering committees, Brink produced a resource for each group. They created the FAFSA Playbook, a step-by-step explanation of the FAFSA form for students, and a detailed FAFSA curriculum for the steering committees. In the FAFSA Playbook and curriculum, there are links to Federal Student Aid resources such as videos on creating an FSA ID and filling out the FAFSA form. As a part of the curriculum, Brink includes best practices for hosting FAFSA nights, sample text messages and announcements ready to send to students and parents, information on how to track data through surveys, and more.

Brink held a summit for representatives from various school districts, with a representative from Federal Student Aid in attendance, to promote the use of the curriculum, provide guidance for implementation, and facilitate FAFSA completion in high schools. Brink is a unique initiative because it was created by students who can directly relate to and best articulate the needs of their peers through the FAFSA process. Because the FAFSA Playbook and the curriculum were created from the student voice, an advisory board of students within ImpactTulsa will continue to maintain the sustainability of Brink after its current members graduate in order to maintain the peer perspective.


Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS)—Baltimore, MD

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Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) is a public school district with 24 high schools that serve more than 30,000 students in grades 9–12. During the 2016–17 school year, the Office of School Counseling implemented the FAFSA Frenzy program. Each high school counseling department in the district received a launch kit that included morning announcements, email scripts, and flyers to promote FAFSA awareness. The kit also contained training materials and a link to a Federal Student Aid webinar so counselors could be further informed of the process and host completion events for students and parents.

Before the FAFSA Frenzy events, some counselors emailed the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet to parents in advance so they would know exactly what information to bring with them to complete the FAFSA form with the student. At the events, counselors provided individual support with FAFSA completion and general financial aid information. A few schools partnered with the Community College of Baltimore County to discuss financial aid from the institutional perspective. Additionally, BCPS provided a hotline for counselors to call with any questions while working with families on the FAFSA form.

BCPS tailored their FAFSA Frenzy events to the needs of their specific school populations and integrated the necessary departments to best support their students through the process. The district offers Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) courses, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) counselors, and transition specialists to provide support to first-generation students, ESOL students, and special education students as well as Pupil Personnel Work services for homeless students and students in foster care applying to college and seeking financial aid. The FAFSA Frenzy initiatives held at each BCPS high school resulted in a 5 percent increase in FAFSA completion during the 2016–17 school year.

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2017


AGUILA Youth Leadership Institute, Inc.—Phoenix, AZ

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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.


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

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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.


Milwaukee Public Schools—Milwaukee, WI

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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.


Alabama Possible: Cash for College—Birmingham, AL

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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


West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission—West Virginia

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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.


College Goal New York—Bronx, NY

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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.

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