Trying to Boost FAFSA Completion? The Media Can Help.

November 23, 2016

By Sara Melnick, Deputy Director 

Via our blog, Access Update newsletter and Success Digest, NCAN has reported recently that FAFSA completion is up: The overall number of high school seniors completing a FAFSA during its first month of availability increased 21 percent this year over last year, and submissions rose 16 percent over last year. This is all great news – and I’m sure you’re interested to hear about some of the strategies NCAN members are using to achieve such great results.

In October we published a blog post on how some of the 22 Kresge FAFSA Completion Challenge Grant recipients are engaging families– a critical strategy for increasing FAFSA completion. Today we’ll share a bit about how some of these sites are involving the media in their work.

In several cities, proactive media outlets are eager to carry out what they see as their civic responsibility to be involved in important issues affecting their community. For example, grantee Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, FL, the community-supported public broadcasting station invited representatives from Duval County to explain changes to the FAFSA and its importance during a radio segment, and then picked them up for a radio news interview. This particular station is consistently tapping into what’s happening right there in the neighborhood of Duval County. The station also donated a four-minute segment to help dispel the myths of FAFSA and announce its early release during the morning show on Sept. 30. In Columbus, OH, grantee I Know I Can’s willingness to help with the creation of FSA IDs and FAFSA completion at the central Ohio KidsRock Expo has gotten them free promotion on local radio stations, in social media and in newspapers about the Oct. 1 Early FAFSA availability.

Other sites have been very proactive in seeking out media partnerships and publicizing information. Duval County Public Schools work with the school district media director and release information about all their FAFSA completion events to local media outlets. They also use the district’s Duval County Public Schools’ Duval Digest – a public newsletter with a distribution of over 61,000 members – to share information about FAFSA and other topics. The grantee Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable in Philadelphia, PA is coordinating with the school district and works closely with their communications office to get coverage on this issue. A press conference covering the launch of the FAFSA campaign was held at the district offices and picked up by the local NBC, ABC, CBS and Univision affiliate. Several radio spots were broadcast as well. In Columbus, IKIC had help from previous board members to produce and place radio ads and public service announcements. Kresge grantee UNITE-LA in Los Angeles, CA issues media advisories before their big college preparation and FAFSA events, and follow-up press releases with quotes after the events. While partners are very engaged in supporting the dissemination of these advisories and releases, coverage has been hit and miss for those events, given the large media market.  So even when sites are proactively engaging and informing the media, it doesn’t always garner the press they’d originally hoped it would. But there’s no harm in trying and it can pay off.

Two Challenge Grant sites also mentioned partnerships with elected officials as a way to engage the media and position the importance of FAFSA completion among city-wide priorities. UNITE-LA in Los Angeles engages their (very supportive) mayor in media opportunities; in fact, he attended a press event to launch Early FAFSA, as did the state senate pro tem, local assembly member, and school board president. And the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable in Philadelphia is working with the City Council on producing a PSA.

And then there’s Univision. In Houston, TX, cafécollege, an initiative of Project GRAD Houston, held a Saturday FAFSA completion event that Univision helped to publicize. Families from all over the city attended. Univision broadcasted radio segments for cafécollege Houston to the entire metro area. In Los Angeles, the local Univision affiliate has been a tremendous supporter of FAFSA completion for several years. This year they hosted two in-studio interviews to talk about the FAFSA changes, as well as a November phone bank. Throughout the phone banks, UNITE-LA will do live in-studio interviews during the morning news, while viewers can call in to ask questions and get information about financial aid. In Philadelphia, thanks to a connection made at the NCAN national conference in Detroit (kudos to us!), the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable was able to partner with Univision. Univision is promoting all their FAFSA completion events, as well as doing public service announcements and human interest stories. They are also helping to recruit bilingual FAFSA Coaches -- in fact, several individuals from organizations that serve immigrant communities were recruited and trained to help complete the FAFSA as a result of this partnership. Univision also participated in the launch of Philadelphia’s FAFSA completion campaign in October, along with the school district and other partners.

Since so many of the Kresge sites mentioned their partnership with Univision, we thought this was worth exploring in more detail, so I reached out to Univision Communications Inc. about why the company is involved, and how other communities might partner with them on this important work. Univision indicated that this is part of the company’s long-standing mission to inform, entertain and empower its audience. Education is one of the most important issue to much of Univision’s audience, and its involvement in this issue – and in FAFSA completion specifically – aims to eliminate language and access barriers to information and resources. Univision recognizes the importance of bridging these gaps to help ensure that everyone has access to information they need to pursue their educational dreams.

Specific to FAFSA completion, many of Univision’s affiliate stations are deeply involved through town halls, fairs and other community events, even hosting or co-hosting FAFSA completion workshops. Affiliates provide on-air opportunities, interviewing experts on what the FAFSA is and how to complete it, why FAFSA completion is important, and referring the viewing audience directly to the FSA website and local events where they can get more information and assistance. There are two ways of getting involved with your local Univision affiliate, if there’s one in your area: You can contact your local Univision affiliate directly or reach out to Ron Estrada, Vice President, National Community Empowerment, Univision Communications Inc. I’m not sure if Mr. Estrada expects NCAN members to knock down his door with requests but hey, I’m not going to discourage you … Given Univision’s clear engagement and commitment, I don’t think they will mind!

In the coming weeks, we’ll provide more information on how the Kresge FAFSA Completion Challenge Grant sites are increasing FAFSA completion in their communities. We hope they’ll inspire the work you do for students and families as much as they’ve inspired us.

For additional resources visit Form Your Future, NCAN’s national FAFSA completion campaign!

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