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Kresge partnering with NCAN to launch $1.6M FAFSA completion initiative for cities


The Kresge Foundation today announced a $1.6 million grant to the National College Access Network (NCAN) to launch the 2016-17 FAFSA Completion Challenge Grant Initiative, which will award up to 20 U.S. cities with grants up to $55,000 to support their efforts to raise FAFSA completion rates.

FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the form high school seniors fill out to tap into billions of dollars available in federal support for postsecondary education. Data show many students who could receive funding do not file a FAFSA, leaving billions unclaimed that could support their higher learning goals. One estimate by financial site put that figure at $2.7 billion.

The challenge is open to 118 cities – the nation’s 100 largest cities by population, as well as 18 cities that are the largest in states without a city in the top 100. NCAN will accept proposals that focus on how those cities will work across sectors to improve FAFSA completion rates by at least 5 percent for the high school class of 2017.

 “When students complete a FAFSA, they are almost twice as likely to go on to college right after high school,” said Bill Moses, Kresge’s managing director for its Education program. “We also know cities that focus on FAFSA completion by working across the urban higher education ecosystem can see real traction in a short time. We hope this challenge pushes new cities to take on that collaborative, cross-sector work and make an immediate positive impact on high school graduates who go on to college.”

This year, two important changes to FAFSA rules have made it both easier for students to apply and faster for them to find out whether they will receive a Pell Grant.

First, the form will be available on Oct. 1, three months earlier than in previous years, which allows students to file earlier and find out sooner whether they will have federal support. The second change now allows students to submit data from their family’s most recently submitted tax return, which means they don’t have to wait to file their taxes before submitting the FAFSA. This change will ensure students have the information they need when it is time to apply.

“These changes should help empower students with information about the financial support that is available to them before they have to make decisions about where to enroll,” said Caroline Altman Smith, Kresge’s deputy director, education. “This challenge grant program comes at an opportune time, when getting the word out about these changes is crucial. We’ve been energized by seeing many promising examples of cities significantly boosting their FAFSA completion rates, and we’re hopeful this grant competition will help even more cities develop a coordinated plan to ensure students know about the FAFSA changes and take advantage of them.”

With Kresge’s support, NCAN will also award three to five prizes totaling $300,000 in September 2017 to standouts from the 20-city cohort. The awards will go to the cities that best demonstrate:

  • Greatest percentage growth in high school FAFSA completions for the Class of 2017, compared to the Class of 2015
  • Highest high school FAFSA completion rate for the Class of 2017.
  • Most innovative or collaborative FAFSA completion strategy and/or partnership with postsecondary institutions.

For full details about the program, its rules, deadlines and how to apply, visit NCAN at

Read about the program’s launch in March 2016.