2018-19 FAFSA Completion Challenge
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NCAN selected 25 U.S. cities to receive grants up to $40,000 each for the 2018-19 FAFSA Completion Challenge. The work within each city was led by a mix of school districts, postsecondary institutions, community-based organizations, and foundations.

Through this project, generously funded by The Kresge Foundation and Ascendium Education Group, NCAN challenged each of the grant recipients to increase their FAFSA completion rates by at least 5 percentage points for the graduating high school class of 2019. In an effort to address equity gaps, this Challenge specifically focused on cities with baseline FAFSA completion rates below the national average.

The 2018-19 competition built on the success of the original Kresge-funded 2016-17 FAFSA Completion Challenge.

“The 2016-17 Challenge demonstrated that cities could achieve significant progress in just one school year by working collaboratively across sectors to give students the FAFSA completion support they need,” said Caroline Altman Smith, Kresge’s deputy director for its Education program. “This is a high-leverage investment for philanthropy because the FAFSA enables students to tap into huge amounts of government resources that often go unclaimed.” 

Completion of the FAFSA may help predict a student's success in postsecondary education. Ninety percent of high school seniors who complete FAFSA attend college directly after high school, compared to just 55% of FAFSA non-completers. 

"[We are] pleased to join our Kresge colleagues in supporting the FAFSA Completion Challenge because of the opportunity to spread evidence-based strategies for FAFSA completion to more communities,” said Amy Kerwin, Ascendium's vice president – education philanthropy. “Successful cities are learning to use data to target the right support to the right students at the right time. We want to help even more school districts understand how to help all their seniors complete this vital step to entering postsecondary education.”

Challenge Winners

In September, NCAN announced the winners of the 2018-19 Challenge at its national conference in Indianapolis. Five grantee cities received awards for their outstanding efforts to boost FAFSA completion.

The grand prize winner of the 2018-19 FAFSA Completion Challenge is Arizona’s Mesa Public Schools.

Mesa implemented several creative strategies to help more of its students file the FAFSA, but a major key to the district’s success was its use of peer coaches. These coaches were recruited by school staff to spread the word among their peers about FASFA completion, its importance, and where to get help with the financial aid application process.

As the grand prize winner, Mesa Public Schools received $100,000 to continue its FAFSA completion efforts.

Four additional districts or organizations received awards:

  • First Runner-Up: Denton Independent School District (Denton, TX) – $25,000
  • Excellence in Overcoming Barriers and Perseverance Award: Rochester Education Foundation (Rochester, NY) – $10,000
  • Excellence in Community-Based Leadership Award: Citizens for Educational Excellence (Corpus Christi, TX) – $10,000
  • Excellence in Training and Professional Development Award: Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (West Valley City, UT) – $10,000

Participating Cities

Here are all of the cities and organizations that participated in the 2018-19 Challenge:
  • Baltimore, MD: Baltimore City Public Schools
  • Charleston, SC: Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative
  • Corpus Christi, TX: Citizens for Educational Excellence
  • Denton, TX: Denton Independent School District
  • Fort Wayne, IN: Northeast Indiana Foundation
  • Fort Worth, TX: Fort Worth Independent School District
  • Grand Prairie, TX: Grand Prairie Independent School District
  • Irving, TX: Irving Independent School District
  • Kent, WA: Puget Sound College & Career Network (Puget Sound Educational Service District)
  • Mesa, AZ: Mesa Public Schools
  • Milwaukee, WI: Milwaukee Public Schools
  • Mobile, AL: Mobile Area Education Foundation
  • Odessa, TX: Odessa College
  • Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma College Assistance Program
  • Palm Bay City, FL: Brevard Public Schools
  • Reno, NV: Truckee Meadows Community College
  • Rochester, NY: Rochester Education Foundation
  • Round Rock, TX: Round Rock Independent School District
  • San Diego, CA: The Regents of the University of California/San Diego and Imperial Counties Cal-SOAP
  • Savannah, GA: University System of Georgia
  • South Bend, IN: United Way of St. Joseph County
  • Tucson, AZ: The Metropolitan Education Commission
  • Tyler, TX: Tyler Area Business Education Council
  • Vancouver, WA: Vancouver Public Schools
  • West Valley City, UT: Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority

Key Practices and Takeaways

For other cities, communities, or school districts looking to boost FAFSA completion rates, the project evaluator identified key practices common among successful FAFSA Completion Challenge grantees. We will continue to add to this blog series.


Check out the FormYourFuture.org for free FAFSA completion resources.

NCAN thanks The Kresge Foundation and Ascendium Education Group for making the FAFSA Completion Challenge grant possible.