In 2016, the Higher Education Compact was awarded a FAFSA completion grant from the Kresge Foundation/National College Access Network. The purpose of the grant was to develop innovative strategies aimed at substantially moving the needle on the number of Cleveland seniors who completed the FAFSA. FAFSA completion is the strongest predictor of whether a student will enroll in a postsecondary degree program as it unlocks the financial resources most students need to afford college.
For the purpose of this challenge, we set an ambitious FAFSA completion goal of having 50% of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District senior class complete the form by June 30th – approximately 1,150 FAFSAs. This would be an increase of 19% from our baseline measurement of 42% of seniors (1,022 FAFSAs) in 2015. As part of this effort, the Compact held the Cleveland Goes to College Kick-Off & College Fair, expanded College Application Month, and created a peer-based incentive program using Chipotle gift cards to encourage completion. The Compact also relied heavily on community and higher education partners to conduct outreach to their constituencies on the topic of financial aid.
The results from this effort were mixed. For the purpose of the grant, we fell short by nearly 200 FAFSAs. Only 948 seniors (18 year olds and younger) completed the form by June 30th – 41%. However, if you include 19 year olds – a measurement that didn’t exist prior to 2017 – 50% of the senior class, or 1,126 seniors, completed the form. This also marks an increase of 2 percentage points from 2016 when only 48% of the senior class (including 19 year olds) completed the form by June 30th.
Although the official competition has ended, the Compact remains committed to increasing FAFSA completion rates among all CMSD seniors. The Compact is grateful for the opportunity provided by NCAN and the Kresge Foundation to expand our FAFSA completion efforts and for the support of our community and higher education partners who worked diligently to reach the grant goal.