Mesa Public Schools wins $100,000 in national FAFSA completion challenge
Mesa Public Schools has won the $100,000 grand prize in the National Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Completion Challenge. The award was presented Sept. 18, 2019, at the 2019 National College Access Network (NCAN) conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. The district was recognized for its innovative practices, leadership, effectiveness and sustainability with the FAFSA completion model.
In June 2018, the district received a $40,000 grant to meet the challenge of increasing the Class of 2019's FAFSA completion rate by at least five percentage points, as compared to the Class of 2018. At the time, the goal was to increase the completion rate from 38% to 45%. By June 30, 2019, the district had surpassed its goal by 3%, resulting in a 48% overall completion rate.
The initial grant funded a three-pronged approach, which included community support, school counselors and FAFSA peer coaches. Key community partners included Arizona State University, the Arizona College Access Network (AzCAN), Mesa Counts on College, Mesa Community College and Be a Leader Foundation.
"This is huge for Mesa, our community partners and Arizona," says Dr. Michael Garcia, director of opportunity and achievement. "To be recognized on a national level for the work we are doing to support our students is incredibly rewarding. However, we still have much to do so even more Mesa students can gain access to college. This is why we have set another ambitious goal to reach 55% FAFSA completion by June 2020."
School counselors hosted lunch and evening events to promote FAFSA completion, and used data to strategically target potential applicants. High school seniors acting as FAFSA peer coaches worked directly with students to promote FAFSA completion and assist families through the process.
"FAFSA completion is a crucial step, and we applaud the fact that it is gaining momentum in Arizona," says Sylvia Symonds, ASU associate vice president of educational outreach and student services. "On the heels of the establishment of a statewide FAFSA goal in 2018-19, the strategic approach Mesa has taken in supporting students and families will inform statewide and national efforts. This award will help fuel the district's efforts to equip Mesa students with the necessary tools for success in college and their future careers."
Mesa continues to partner with community organizations to reach its new goal of 55% and will use the hashtag #strive455 to promote efforts on social media.
"Mesa Public Schools is thrilled to be named the grand prize winner in the National FAFSA Completion Challenge," says Dr. Ember Conley, superintendent. "Our students and staff worked incredibly hard to increase our completion rate last year. This challenge aligns with our 2023 goal of a 95% graduation rate. Data shows that students who complete the FAFSA are 90% more likely to go on to college or other postsecondary opportunities. We look forward to continuing this great work to ensure all of our students graduate ready for college, career and community."
Pictured (left to right): Dino Recla, district prevention counselor; Sylvia Symonds, ASU associate vice president of educational outreach and student services; Heidi Doxey, College Success Arizona program manager; Dr. Michael Garcia, director of opportunity & achievement; and Benjamin Fisher, district college and career coach. Photo courtesy of NCAN.