NCAN Publications

An Examination of the Relationship between School District FAFSA Completion Rates and District Poverty Levels (April 2017)

NCAN sought the answer to a seemingly obvious question: Do communities with more children living in poverty complete the FAFSA form at higher rates than communities with lower rates of poverty? In this paper, the University of Pittsburgh's Lindsay Page and her colleagues demonstrate that in most states the opposite is true: The higher the rate of poverty for children 5 to 17 years old in a particular school district, the lower the FAFSA completion rate for that district.

Increasing FAFSA completion among low-income school districts creates opportunities for more equitable access to higher education and to better subsequent labor market opportunities. Therefore, policies aimed at increasing FAFSA completion rates are powerful potential mechanisms for reducing economic inequality and social inequality. The findings of this study provide guidance on where concentrated effort may yield the highest return in terms of improved FAFSA completion rates.

Idea Incubator Series: Incorporating Fit and Match Into College Advising and Program Data (April 2017 - Members Only) 

NCAN has heard, repeatedly and consistently, over the years that one of the best aspects of NCAN membership is the ability to collaborate with and learn from other members. At our annual national conference, spring training events, and other gatherings, the cross-pollination of ideas and resources helps to make the entire membership stronger. In an effort to further this kind of transfer of ideas, NCAN, in the summer of 2016, hosted a series of four Idea Incubators across the country. These Incubators brought members together to tackle tough questions in data and evaluation.

The first of these Idea Incubators, “Incorporating Fit and Match into College Advising and Program Data,” was hosted by Degrees of Change in Tacoma, WA. Readers should consider this document a hybrid between a white paper, a resource guide, and meeting minutes on this important topic, which has come into closer focus in both research literature and program practice in recent years.

NCAN Benchmarking Spotlight: Philadelphia Futures (February 2017)

The Benchmarking Project is an important collaboration between NCAN, our members, and the National Student Clearinghouse that examines college access and success programs’ collective success in helping students to enroll in and complete at postsecondary institutions. The Benchmarking Report series assists with identifying high-performing programs from which other NCAN members may be able to learn important lessons and strategies.

This is the first in a series of four case studies that profile programs participating in the Benchmarking Project. Ann Coles, senior fellow at uAspire, conducted these case studies, which included extensive interviews with program staff, leadership, partners, and students. She also reviewed key program documents and processes.

This first case study considers Philadelphia Futures, an NCAN member serving 600 high school and college students directly on an annual basis and 40,000 through outreach efforts. Coles describes Philadelphia Futures’ outcomes: “Over 98 percent of the students enroll in college right after high school. While only 10 percent of Philadelphia high school graduates earn college degrees, Philadelphia Futures’ overall college graduation rate is 60 percent. The graduation rate has risen dramatically over the past decade, resulting in a projected graduation rate of 70 percent for the high school classes of 2005-2012.”

Half the FAFSA: Cutting the Red Tape to Postsecondary Study Aid (January 2017)

This report is the culmination of NCAN's work to research options to simplifying the the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The report outlines one possible simplification effort, its costs, and the results of experimental user-testing on the proposed simplification, the Streamlined FAFSA.

The FAFSA enables millions of students to attend college. However, the complexity and length of the application results in low completion rates and leaves roughly $24 billion in federal student aid unclaimed. “Half the FAFSA: Cutting the Red Tape to Postsecondary Student Aid” presents the Streamlined FAFSA, a consumer-tested approach to the financial aid application process that reduces completion time, improves accuracy and increases usability for families and students, and maintains the universality of the form.

Executive Summary / Full Report / Technical Report: Performance / Technical Report: Usability

FAFSA Completion Rates in 68 U.S. Cities for the High School Class of 2015 (December 2016)

Earlier this year, NCAN gathered FAFSA completion data for the graduating high school class of 2015 from 68 U.S. cities as part of grant applications for The Kresge Foundation’s FAFSA Completion Challenge. Twenty-two cities received grants of up to $55,000 to help raise FAFSA completion rates for the high school class of 2017.

What did we learn about FAFSA completion rates by the time of high school graduation in these cities?

  • Rates ranged extraordinarily, from as low as 25 percent to as high as 68 percent (see Figure 1, page 5).
  • Completion rates did not correlate with city population size or poverty rate.
  • The average FAFSA completion rate among the 68 cities was 48 percent.

Financial Aid Eligibility Mindsets Among Low-Income Students: Why Do Some Believe They Can't Receive Financial Aid for College? (October 2016)

Previous research has suggested that most students who do not apply for financial aid do not think they are eligible. However, our research told a different story. In general, participants who did not apply for financial aid lacked information about their eligibility. Students selected “I did not think I was eligible” to signify that they did not actually know one way or the other, rather than because they truly believed that they were ineligible for aid from an informed perspective. Students who did not apply were either misinformed or uninformed about how they could acquire aid and, more importantly, about what aid was in general. This perspective is critical, as it opens the opportunities to intervene and to provide students with the information they need. The study's nine key findings are: 

  1. The whole question of “eligibility” is moot if students don’t actually know anything about financial aid.
  2. There is no lack of information about financial aid; it’s just not getting to the students who need it most.
  3. Students who did not apply for financial aid were more likely to have a negative perception of loans.
  4. Males were more likely to be misinformed or uninformed about financial aid and to not want aid in general.
  5. Students who did not apply for financial aid were more likely to prefer to pay for their schooling out of pocket.
  6. Many students who did not apply for financial aid were not confident that they could rely on their schools for support.
  7. Students who did not apply for financial aid were more likely to believe that their parents did not want to share their information.
  8. Students whose parents did not attend college were as likely to apply for financial aid as those whose parents did attend college.
  9. Hispanic students were more likely to believe that there were opportunities to receive financial aid.

Closing the Graduation Gap: National College Access and Success Benchmarking Report (September 2016, Benchmarking Project Round 3)

This report, the third of an annual series, continues to build on NCAN's work with our members and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC). Using 73 programs' student data from the high school classes of 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2015, the report continues to show evidence that students served by NCAN member programs can enter and complete college at rates similar to students from more affluent communities. This report includes enrollment and completion rate benchmarks disaggregated by student-level characteristics.

What Does the Research Say about Early Awareness Strategies for College Access and Success? (March 2016)

This report explores the published literature on early awareness strategies for college going. Given that published literature on this subject is sparse, it also includes internal evaluations and program reported data. Overall, it concludes that early awareness strategies are beneficial for middle grade students, but that there is no one "silver bullet" solution. Further, those looking to create new programs or policies should implement program evaluations that include intermediate benchmarks as the time between the middle grades and college completion is quite long. Finally, the report calls for an expanded focus on evaluations of early awareness programs.

Encourage, Empower, Educate: Student-Center Solutions for Policy Change (September 2015)

The National College Access Network (NCAN), The Education Trust (Ed Trust), the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) and the Urban Institute explored  if there are practical improvements in federal financial aid policy for low-income students that will lead to increased uptake of federal aid and increased completion rates for Pell Grant recipients. These practical improvements include:

  1. Creating a sustainable, large-scale early financial aid awareness system by using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, and tax filing process to notify low-income families that their students will likely be eligible for federal student aid;
  2. Changing the FAFSA filing process so that it is based on prior-prior year income, instead of last year’s income, allowing students to learn their federal aid sooner and spend more time finding a college that supports completion; and
  3. Emphasizing institutional practices that yield strong completion rates for Pell Grant recipients and demonstrating why knowing the Pell Grant recipient graduation rate of an institution is beneficial to students.

All of these solutions are common sense ideas that can ease the number of barriers on the pathway to college success for low-income and first-generation students and students of color.

Closing the Graduation Gap: National College Access and Success Benchmarking Report (July 2015, Benchmarking Project Round 2)

This report, the second of an annual series, continues to build on NCAN's work with our members and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC). Using 42 programs' student data from the high school classes of 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2014, the report continues to show evidence that students served by NCAN member programs can enter and complete college at rates similar to students from more affluent communities.

Closing the Graduation Gap: National College Access and Success Benchmarking Report (December 2014, Benchmarking Project Round 1)

 This report, the first of an annual series, is the result of NCAN working with our members and with the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) to establish meaningful metrics about the outcomes of students served by college access and success programs. Using data collected from 24 NCAN member programs, the NSCRC calculated an enrollment rate and graduation rates for the high school classes of 2007, 2008, and 2009 and an enrollment rate for the high school class of 2013. Developing and tracking these metrics are critical as the college access and success field increasingly turns toward data for improving program performance and understanding student outcomes.

Data Usage and Platforms for College Access and Success: Insight from the Field (September 2014)

Curious about how other programs use data? Confused about which data platform might be a good fit for your organization? This report seeks to help you answer both of those questions. Written as a product of the Common Measures Learning Community, this paper includes data from a survey of NCAN members and profiles and testimonials of five different data platforms being used by college access and success programs nationally.

Sooner, Simpler, Smarter: Policy Change for Better College Choice (November 2013)

Changes to federal higher education policy that simplify financial aid and make better information available to students will help more Americans afford college and complete a postsecondary credential or degree. Deciding where to attend college is a crucial decision, one that is made more difficult by the current financial aid process and lack of information about outcomes. The consequences of the current financial aid system and lack of information about outcomes affects studentspolicymakers, and employers. But there are ways we can improve college choice by reforming the financial aid process and making better information available for everyone.

Supporting Best Practices in Student Success: Lessons from the Field (July 2013)

Access to college holds little value for students if they do not stay enrolled and complete a college credential. With a grant from TG Philanthropy, NCAN assisted four member organizations in establishing or expanding programs to support students during college. The organizations implemented similar strategies including "intrusive" student advising, peer mentoring, renewable scholarships, and close collaboration with higher ed institutions to identify early signs that students were at risk for dropping out.

Preparing to Dream: A College Access and Success Initiative Uniting Five Houston-Area School Districts (January 2013)

Preparing to Dream, a four-year initiative (2007-2011) funded by the Houston Endowment, built a college-going culture in five Houston-area school districts. District leaders and staff committed to transforming their district and campus priorities as well as their decision-making and implementation processes to increase college enrollment in their communities. The initiative set out to increase the percentage of students who would:

  • Successfully complete the college preparatory curriculum.
  • Take and complete accelerated learning courses (dual credit, advanced placement).
  • Attain target scores on college entrance assessments.
  • Complete the FAFSA on time and develop concrete plans to enroll in and pay for college.
  • Qualify, while in high school, to take credit-bearing courses in college by passing rigorous high school courses, especially in English and mathematics.
  • Enroll in postsecondary institutions.

Increasing Return on Investment from Federal Student Aid (December 2012)

Despite an annual federal investment of more than $150 billion, only 54 percent of students who begin a college degree program complete one within six years. To improve these outcomes, NCAN recommend that Congress: 

  • Prioritize federal dollars for first-generation and low-income students while reshaping aid for those repaying student loans.
  • Continue to streamline the student aid application process and provide transparent, relevant information on student outcomes.
  • Ensure that states and higher education institutions share responsibility with the federal government to support the graduation of low-income students.

Common Measures for College Access and Success (October 2012)

Based on research and the best practices of its 350-plus members, NCAN developed a recommended set of Common Measures to help college access and success programs guide and assess their work. All measures are associated with the two main outcomes NCAN members help their students pursue:

  • Postsecondary enrollment: Six essential indicators, 13 optional indicators, and five core demographic characteristics
  • Postsecondary completion: Six essential indicators, 12 optional indicators, and six demographic characteristics.

NCAN has also released a companion dashboard tool NCAN members can use to organize, analyze, and communicate their indicators.

Creating and Operating a State or Regional College Access and Success Network (September 2011)The purpose of this guidebook is to present the information necessary to create and build an effective network, be that a state, regional or citywide organization. It presents an overview of effective practices and experiences used by peers in the field; as well as challenges, struggles as well as suggestions for solutions and successes. This guidebook is designed to provide information on the: 1) various types of network structures, 2) resources needed to create and operate a network, and 3) services most valued by network members and students.

Using Data and Inquiry to Build Equity-Focused College Going Cultures (September 2011)

Boston Toolkit

The Student Success Toolkit Demonstration Project helped teams of school-based practitioners heighten their awareness of inequities in the rates of college-preparedness and college-going among their students at two Boston high schools. Researchers from NCAN and the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California led teams of administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, and college access providers who were trained to collaborate on the analysis/use of data and action research methods to examine and change institutional policies and practices to more effectively promote college access for all students through the Equity Scorecard™ process. This project was funded by the Kresge Foundation.

Guide to Creating Community-Based College Access Programs (2006)

This manual is a tool for people who want to start a college access program proving college admissions and financial aid advising to historically underserved students, along with the option of last-dollar scholarships. It covers the program planning, implementation, and growth stages and includes a sample timeline and budget. As with any model, steps may need to be modified based on the capacities, aspirations, and realities of a community.

Fundraising & Sustainability Training Module (2006)

Robert C. Dickeson authored this 53-page module for NCAN, based on has decades of experience as a university president, business CEO, and foundation executive. He served on the boards of more than 40 nonprofits during his career and had leadership roles in annuOne al fund, major gifts, planned giving, and capital campaigns. The module is an excellent introduction to fundraising, particularly from individuals, and is also a valuable refresher for more experiences development professionals and volunteers. The modules cover topics such as the cultivation cycle, the 90/10 rule, feasibility studies, and prospect research.