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With $2.4M, Kresge backs NCAN efforts to reverse COVID’s effect on postsecondary enrollment


UPDATE 4/15/21: See the grant award winners here

The National College Attainment Network (NCAN) announced today two new grant programs funded by Kresge’s Education Program designed to help mitigate the pandemic-related slide in college enrollment.

Studies show the number of new high school graduates applying for financial aid and enrolling directly into postsecondary education has dropped precipitously. Disaggregated data makes clear the largest declines in FAFSA completion and postsecondary enrollment are from students of color and those from low-wealth families. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form that students fill out when applying for federal loans or grants.

This trend is concerning, says Education Program Deputy Director Caroline Altman Smith, because students who delay postsecondary enrollment after high school are almost two-thirds less likely to go on to complete a degree. Kresge’s Education Program works to increase college access and success and to close racial equity gaps in higher education.

To combat this enrollment trend, which has been dubbed by some as “COVID-melt,” the Education Program made a $2.4 million, multi-year grant to NCAN. The grant will support NCAN’s general operations for the next three years, as well as provide $1.5 million in immediate funding for two grant opportunities for work to increase Fall 2021 postsecondary enrollment among the high school classes of 2020 and 2021.

“COVID-19 has derailed many students’ dreams of entering college, and the time to address this is now, before another cohort graduates this spring,” Altman Smith said. “We hope this grant leads to improvements in concrete, short-term student outcomes, including a boost in FAFSA completion, and an increase in youth who get the support needed to enroll or re-enroll.”

Two types of grants are available: one to amplify state-level FAFSA completion initiatives, and one to enhance local postsecondary advising and matriculation support in select metropolitan areas. Proposals for both types of grants are due on March 26 and interested cities or agencies can apply on NCAN’s website. NCAN expects to award between 20 and 30 grants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 by April 9.

“Remote learning cut students off from many of the teachers, counselors, and advisors who supported their postsecondary planning. Economic hardship and uncertainty led many students to set aside their college dreams to work in often low-skill jobs,” NCAN Executive Director Kim Cook said. “At the same time, we know many NCAN members around the country are working creatively and harder than ever to keep these students on the path to college. These grants will provide additional financial support as well as recognition of organizations going the extra mile in this extraordinarily challenging time.”

Students who file a FAFSA are 63% more likely to enroll in college, which is why this continues to be a strategic area of support for Kresge. This new funding builds on prior Kresge-funded work with NCAN to improve FAFSA completion in cities. A FAFSA completion competition in 2016 saw 22 participating cities raise FAFSA completion rates by almost 5%. In 2018, a second round of the competition launched, with 25 cities participating and winners announced in 2019.

One of the Education Program’s five focuses for 2021 is mitigating the slide in college enrollment. Education Program Managing Director Bill Moses wrote about those five strategies, saying, “The effects of the pandemic – loss of life, job and income changes, and shifts to remote learning – forced many would-be first-time students to change their enrollment plans. These students are more likely to be Black, Latinx or Indigenous students or come from households living with low incomes.

“To mitigate enrollment declines for this year’s high school seniors, we will work with experienced national groups like NCAN to support targeted solutions that support communities to help first-time students pursue a college education.”