2018-19 FAFSA Completion Challenge

NCAN is pleased to announce the 2018-19  FAFSA Completion Challenge grant  competition to raise FAFSA completion rates among high school seniors in cities across the country.  One hundred U.S. cities are invited to submit a proposal describing how they will meet NCAN’s challenge: to raise their FAFSA completion rates among the Class of 2019 by at least 5 percentage points, compared to the Class of 2017. Up to 30 cities will be selected to receive grants of up to $40,000, generously funded by Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates and The Kresge Foundation. Also, NCAN will award a $100,000 grand prize in September 2019 to one city based on a holistic review of the percentage growth in completions, adoption of effective strategies, barriers overcome, and likelihood of sustainability.

  • The 100 invited cities for 2018-19 are listed below. Each has a population of at least 100,000 residents and a FAFSA completion rate that is at least 5 percentage points below the national average for the high school Class of 2017.
  • Potential grantees in those cities should submit a proposal for the competition by the April 13 deadline.
  • After a March 21 webinar for prospective applicants, NCAN will post a continuously updated list of FAQs about the grant competition. To register for this webinar, please click here.

Why invest in FAFSA completion? Millions of students who are eligible for aid fail to file the FAFSA each year, leaving billions in “money on the table” that could be supporting their postsecondary education. FAFSA noncompletion rates also present an enormous opportunity because FAFSA completion is so strongly correlated with good postsecondary outcomes – from immediate college enrollment, to continued persistence and ultimately completion.

Cities are a natural place to concentrate FAFSA assistance because population density makes it relatively easier to reach large numbers of students with support, and cities are more likely than less populated areas to have an array of higher education institutions that serve local low-income students. And a number of cities have demonstrated that significant improvement is possible.

This is the second time NCAN has issued such a challenge. The Kresge Foundation announced the winners of the initial $1.6 million grant initiative in September 2017 at the NCAN National Conference in San Diego, CA. Across the board, 18 of the 22 participants improved from the baseline year, and the cities logged an average increase of 4.45 percentage points,  helping to reverse  a four-year decline in nationwide FAFSA completions. Greensboro came out on top for finishing the 2016-17 Challenge with the highest completion rate (66.03 percent) and the biggest increase (13.76 percentage points), while grantees in Charleston, WV and Cheyenne, WY won prizes for logging second-highest completion rate (62.44 percent) and the second-largest increase (12.61 percentage points), respectively. The average national completion rate for the Class of 2017 was 61 percent. 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.

These strong results argue for bringing the FAFSA Completion Challenge to more cities, on a greater scale. The 2018-19 grantees will aim for an increase of at least 5 percentage points – approximately a doubling of the 2016-17 goal, a challenging yet possible achievement that represents a larger percent growth in students filing. Additional investment in FAFSA completion will leverage billions of federal, state, and institutional financial aid dollars and help thousands more students begin and complete a postsecondary credential, support the institutionalization of FAFSA completion strategies within cities that will yield benefits year after year, and set a concrete goal to mobilize, support, and strengthen the cross-sector higher education ecosystems developing in many communities, reinforcing a structure within which they can address other postsecondary attainment challenges.

For the 2018-19 Challenge, NCAN will accept grant proposals from one of each city’s NCAN-member organizations, school districts, higher education institutions, local government agencies, community foundations, or selected other organizations that lead citywide college access and success initiatives. Applications will be evaluated based on collaboration among multiple stakeholders, strength of a city’s FAFSA completion strategy and initial plans, experience to date on FAFSA completion efforts, understanding of relevant FAFSA completion data and ability to access and use data, geographic distribution and student demographics, and integration of invitational priorities. Those priorities include cross-sector partnerships, strategic outreach and FAFSA completion efforts, capacity building, and data access and use.

NCAN will assemble an advisory committee of individuals with expertise in FAFSA completion strategies and data to review grant applications and confirm the grand prize winner.

Application Timeline

  • Call for Proposals: March 14, 2018
  • Prospective Applicant Webinar: Wednesday, March 21, 2018, 3 p.m. Eastern (this webinar will be recorded and available on the NCAN website)
  • Application Deadline: Friday, April 13, 2018 (11:59 PM Eastern)
  • Award Notification: May 13, 2018
  • Grant Funding Start Date: June 1, 2018
  • FAFSA Summer Strategies Institute: a week of June 2018 (specific date and location TBD) (attendance required)
  • Baseline FAFSA completion data for the Class of 2018 due to NCAN: July 31, 2018
  • Grant Funding End Date: June 30, 2019
  • Grantee Final Report Deadline: July 31, 2019
  • Prize Announcement: September 2019 at the annual NCAN conference in Indianapolis 

Questions? Contact Sara Melnick at melnicks@collegeaccess.org

100 Invited Cities