During NCAN’s national conference in Indianapolis last week, I had the chance to update many of you about NCAN’s work during the last school year. Especially for those who couldn’t join us, please read on to learn how NCAN grew and supported the postsecondary access and success field during 2018-19. Although it’s impossible to document everything in one blog post, I hope these highlights help you better understand NCAN’s work.
Membership Growth, New Projects, and Regrants
Numerically speaking, NCAN achieved a very strong 15% annual growth in membership, topping the 500-member mark for the first time in our history. We also maintained our annual member renewal rate of approximately 85%. Recent membership growth has been particularly strong among K-12 schools and districts, which is invaluable for greater cross-sector engagement.
We are grateful to all our new members as well as those who reinvest in NCAN year after year. None of what we do would be possible without your support and collaboration.
NCAN awarded half a million dollars in new regrants through national funders to NCAN member programs in 2018-19, on top of continuing regrants of $2.1 million from the prior year, for FAFSA completion support, advocacy, and scaling success programs. Regrants are needed venture-capital and local program support, but they also deepen our learning and inform our field about proven practices to drive our country’s college attainment rate.
Notably, NCAN shared that learning and our collective expertise in new projects to build our field and inform partners through the pipeline. We coached and supported a community of practice for the 20 school districts selected for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “To and Through Advising Challenge.” NCAN also advised 11 rural county extension offices in Texas through the Rural Student Success Initiative. We have consulted with community foundations in California, Missouri, and Hawaii seeking to build equity into their scholarship strategies. Through the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, we helped 12 NCAN member programs to scale and launch their college success and completion programs through partnerships with higher education institutions.
Improved Member Services
NCAN supported our field by providing members with services such as our e-learning system that had an unprecedented 3,300 learning units completed during 2018-19, training practitioners to continue delivering quality support to our students. We added or significantly revised important three units: College Fit & Match, Family Engagement, and Multiculturally Competent Advisors.
We provided additional professional development and information through dozens of member webinars, three regional training events, and our ever-popular Success Digest weekly email newsletter. We also implemented a new, integrated member database and website that offer additional features and better tells the story of NCAN, our members, and our students.
Students are our daily work and our deepest inspiration. Your fierce advocacy, coupled with data and student stories, have continued to elevate our voice on policy.
We celebrated policy wins at the federal level with an increase to the Pell Grant and at the state level with the expansion of FAFSA completion as a high school requirement to two more states – Texas and Illinois. We proudly watched four NCAN members testify before a congressional committee about FAFSA verification problems that unfairly and disproportionately affect our students, as well as recommended solutions.
NCAN was also pleased to mobilize our members, and leverage student voice, through a record-breaking Capitol Hill Day that trained practitioners and students to share their stories with their members of Congress, especially timely as we await reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. You can watch quick videos of a few of our Hill Day participants on the Our Students page.
Reports and Tools
We provided thought leadership communications and tools to drive advocacy forward. Our “Growing Gap” report and interactive data dashboard examined the growing unaffordability of public institutions for Pell Grant recipients. Just 48% of community colleges and only 27% of four-year public institutions in our sample were affordable for the average Pell Grant recipient.
Our redesigned FAFSA Tracker, which tracks and ranks states’ progress toward 100% of their high school seniors completing the FAFSA, received tens of thousands of visits. By June 30, 57% of high school seniors completed a FAFSA, down 0.4% from the 2017-18 school year, but states like Louisiana, Tennessee, Delaware, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey led the way with completion rates far exceeding the national average.
Overall, the NCAN website increased average unique monthly visitors by 14% compared to 2017-18, indicating that more members and nonmembers are finding and appreciating our resources.
The media has been dominated by stories about privilege in our field. And while that was not news to you, it points out the need for us to be more vocal and intentional about our commitment to equity. NCAN was invited to join the EngageDEI cohort, led by Promise54, whereby we will receive two years of intensive coaching, technical assistance and professional development to enhance and further operationalize our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. We will then turn that learning around to engage our members in similar equity journeys.
Finally, NCAN spent part of 2018-19 planning for the future. As a country, we unfortunately still have far to go to achieve equity in college access and completion as we battle persistent attainment gaps by income and race. The national statistics belie how amazing our students are and how resilient, determined, and strong they are to succeed in a system that is often not supportive of their needs. They prove that intervention, advising, and support can change their trajectory.
NCAN leadership and staff had this front of mind as we worked to craft a new three-year strategic plan to chart our course into our 25th anniversary year in 2020 and through 2022. We will share the full plan later this fall and provide details about how NCAN will deepen the impact of our network, continue to influence supportive federal and state policy, and expand our systemic and field impact.
Thank you once again being part of NCAN and working to further the postsecondary access and success movement. Our staff is honored to support you and your students, and we always welcome your questions and suggestions.