Greensboro, NC Tops Winning FAFSA Completion Challenge Cities

September 13, 2017

By Allie Ciaramella, Communications Manager

Through the $1.6 million FAFSA Completion Challenge grant, NCAN selected 22 U.S. cities to receive up to $55,000 each to raise FAFSA completion rates by at least 5 percent for the graduating Class of 2017. The Kresge Foundation, which generously funded the grant, announced the winners Sept. 13 at the 2017 NCAN National Conference in San Diego, CA.

Across the board, the cities logged an average increase of 4.43 percentage points, helping to reverse a four-year decline in nationwide FAFSA completions – an impressive feat considering their urban settings, which face unique challenges in successfully reaching all student populations.

“The work of each city was truly inspiring,” said Bill Moses, Kresge’s managing director, Education. “These cities are working with high numbers of under-privileged and underrepresented students, who benefit most from completing a FAFSA. We’re thrilled to learn about the innovative practices they used to work across their localities and across sectors to get there.”

Find stories of students from the 22 cities who successfully filed a FAFSA and received money for college at FAFSAstories.org. These 22 stories center on how real students overcame challenges -- from missing important information, being selected for verification, dealing with immigration issues, to being homeless and more -- to file a FAFSA and get support for their higher education future.

Greensboro came out on top, and grantees there received a $75,000 prize for finishing the Challenge with the highest completion rate (66.03 percent) and the biggest increase (13.76 percentage points) from the Class of 2015 – the year for which grantees provided baseline FAFSA completion data – to the Class of 2017.

Grantees in Charleston, WV and Cheyenne, WY received $50,000 each for logging second-highest completion rate (62.44 percent) and the second-largest increase (12.61 percentage points), respectively.

The Kresge FAFSA Challenge winners accept their awards at the 2017 NCAN National Conference. From left to right: Kierstan Knaus of Get2College in Jackson, MS; Katina Fullen of I Know I Can in Columbus, OH; Jon Duffy of West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission in Charleston, WV; Rich Nickel of College Success Arizona in Phoenix, AZ; Warché Downing of Say Yes to Education Guilford in Greensboro, NC; Christine Marquandt of Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, WY; and Paola Santana of UNITE-LA in Los Angeles, CA.

Another five grantees won $25,000 in prize money for exceptional work around a particular theme. Columbus, OH was recognized for engaging a community ecosystem, while Jackson, MS impressed by involving the higher education sector. Los Angeles, CA excelled at overcoming barriers faced by its high population of undocumented students, and Phoenix, AZ was lauded for taking an especially strategic approach to FAFSA completion. Finally, San Juan, PR was singled out for creating systems change.

“We are grateful to The Kresge Foundation for supporting organizations nationwide in this important work to help more students – especially those underrepresented in postsecondary education – seek and obtain the financial aid for college that is available to them,” NCAN Executive Director Kim Cook said. “By identifying and sharing best practices from these 22 cities, we can ensure that more students file the FAFSA, enroll in and ultimately complete college.”

The 22 organizations to receive grant funding spanned the education, nonprofit, government and for-profit sectors. They are:

  • Albuquerque, NM - Albuquerque Public Schools
  • Austin, TX - Austin Chamber of Commerce
  • Bakersfield, CA - Kern Community Foundation
  • Baton Rouge, LA - Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance
  • Birmingham, AL - Alabama Possible
  • Charleston, WV - West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission
  • Cheyenne, WY - Laramie County Community College
  • Cleveland, OH - College Now Greater Cleveland
  • Columbus, OH - I Know I Can
  • Detroit, MI - Excellent Schools Detroit
  • Greensboro, NC - University of North Carolina Greensboro
  • Houston, TX - Project GRAD Houston
  • Jackson, MS - Get2College
  • Jacksonville, FL - Duval County Public Schools
  • Kansas City, MO - Mid-America Regional Council
  • Los Angeles, CA - UNITE-LA
  • Louisville, KY - Community Foundation of Louisville
  • Manchester, NH - Manchester School District
  • Philadelphia, PA - Philadephia College Prep Roundtable
  • Phoenix, AZ - Arizona College Access Network
  • Portland, OR - Higher Education Coordinating Commission
  • San Juan, PR - Kinesis Inc.

The 22 grantee cities – 16 of which met the Challenge – were not alone in their ambition: 46 others applied to participate. While data from all 68 cities helped NCAN and The Kresge Foundation show the need for this work – across these locales, the FAFSA completion rate for the graduating high school class of 2015 was just 48 percent – it also sent an important message: that increasing postsecondary completion starts with increasing FAFSA completion, and in that endeavor, we all have a role to play.

Students who file the FAFSA are 63 percent more likely to attend college, yet just 61 percent of the high school class of 2017 applied for federal aid. What’s more, an NCAN study found that low FAFSA completion does not plague all students equally: In most states, high school seniors in higher-poverty school districts are less likely to complete the FAFSA than students in wealthier districts. That is, for every 10-percentage-point increase in the proportion of children living in poverty, a school district’s FAFSA completion rate declines by about 3 percentage points.

For media inquiries or more information, contact NCAN Communications Manager Allie Ciaramella or The Kresge Foundation Communications Officer Krista Jahnke.

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