Welcome to the FSA Partner Spotlight! 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 FSAPartnerSpotlight@ed.gov.
Looking for older Spotlight features? Visit our 2018 Spotlight Archive.
FAFSA Completion Challenge Grant Initiative
The Kresge Foundation partnered with the National College Access 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'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.
FAFSA completion event in Austin.
Students and Austin Chamber of Commerce members.
Use our digital and social media resources to share important federal student aid information with your networks.
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.
I Know I Can event in Columbus.
FAFSA completion event in Columbus.
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.
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.
Jackson students loved the marketing campaign slogan, "First you haf-ta FAFSA."
Get2College staff with mascot at FAFSA event.
Find free training materials to help counselors and mentors get the skills they need to help families prepare financially for college or career school.
Sign Up to Receive FSA Partner Emails
We consider school counselors, college access organization staff, and other mentors to be our partners in educating students about applying for and receiving federal student aid to help make their college dreams a reality. Several times a year, we email our partners with updates about our products and services, reminders about upcoming professional development opportunities, tips for outreach to students, and more. We highly encourage you to sign up to receive our partner emails.
Note: The emails we send are intended to keep counselors and mentors up to date; they do not contain information for students or parents. Please send students and parents to StudentAid.gov for information about federal student aid.
Please feel free to share the FSA partner email sign-up page with your colleagues and community partners in the field.