Highlights of 2016-17 for NCAN and Student Advocates

By Elizabeth Morgan, National College Access Network

10/18/17

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Looking back on 2016-17, the NCAN membership and college access and success field has a lot to be proud of. Let's take a quick look at progress in financial aid, student outcomes, professional development, and NCAN's organizational health.

FAFSA. FAFSA was the big story of the year. The collective efforts of K-12 schools, nonprofits, school counselors, volunteer aid administrators, state agencies, and many others taking advantage of an earlier FAFSA start date and more easily available tax information achieved a whopping 9-percent increase in filing by high school seniors as of June 30. "Federal policy changes helped students file FAFSA sooner and with fewer complications," NCAN policy director Carrie Warick said. "The college access and success community embraced the improvements and made them work for students."

The Kresge FAFSA Completion Challenge also focused attention and resources on improving low FAFSA completion rates in 22 cities. Meanwhile, the Form Your Future social media campaign promoted the availability of financial aid to millions of students, driving 155,000 clicks to fafsa.gov. The March shutdown of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool was a stumbling block, but happened late enough in the school year that it was not an enormous barrier for high school seniors filing the FAFSA. NCAN devoted considerable time to alerting members about how to handle the shutdown and advocating for a technology solution that would not harm low-income students.

Additional FAFSA developments in 2016-17 include:

  • NCAN released a user-tested proposal for cutting the FAFSA in half while reducing completion time, improving accuracy, increasing usability for families and students, and maintaining the universality of the form.
  • NCAN also commissioned groundbreaking research from the University of Pittsburgh's Lindsay Page, Danielle J. Lowry and Aizat Nurshatayeva demonstrating that for every 10-percentage-point increase in the proportion of children living in poverty, a school district's FAFSA completion rate declines by about 3 percentage points. That is, the more students need postsecondary financial aid, the less likely they are to apply for it.
  • The Washington, D.C. political newspaper and website The Hill published an op-ed by Executive Director Kim Cook calling for more FAFSA simplification, based on the success of Early FAFSA.
  • NCAN was quoted for the first time by The New York Times in a story about the IRS DRT, and Executive Director Kim Cook made her first national television news appearance on PBS Newshour to discuss the benefits of Early FAFSA.

Year-Round Pell Grants. While less immediately gratifying than FAFSA completion, the U.S. Congress's decision in April to reinstate year-round Pell Grants means that more low-income students will be able to maintain continuous enrollment, which is associated with higher persistence and completion rates. An estimated 1 million students attending at least half-time will be eligible to receive one-and-a-half Pell Grants during an academic year.

Closing Gaps in Student Outcomes. NCAN's annual Benchmarking Project aggregates student college enrollment and completion data for dozens of member organizations and thousands of students each year. This project allows our members to compare their performance to similar organizations and helps NCAN quantify the effect that our field has on student outcomes. The 2016 report found that for postsecondary enrollment, students served by NCAN members significantly exceed rates of low-income high schools (about 50 to 55 percent for members) and achieve rates similar to all high school graduates nationally, regardless of income (about 70 percent). For postsecondary completion, lack of data makes direct national comparison difficult, but the low-income students served by NCAN members show higher rates compared to attainment levels of a proximate age group of all Americans, regardless of income. In 2015, 46.5 percent of all Americans ages 25 to 34, regardless of income, held an associate's degree or higher. By comparison, 51 percent of NCAN members' students from the high school class of 2009 completed a postsecondary credential by 2015 (the commonly accepted six-year window for measuring postsecondary attainment). These rates indicate that NCAN's low-income students are succeeding more frequently than their peers.

E-Learning. The college access and success community continued to use NCAN's e-learning program as a convenient, consistent way to provide fundamental knowledge to their staff members. With the support of the ECMC Foundation, NCAN added several units and implemented the first marketing plan for the program. Check out these stats:

  • 2016-17 Units Completed: 720

Most Popular Units:

  • Finding the Right Fit: Advising First Generation Students (content thanks to College Now Greater Cleveland)
  • dvising Youth Experiencing Homelessness (content thanks to National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth)
  • FAFSA 201: After the FAFSA (content thanks to uAspire)

NCAN Members with Most Completers:

  • ACCESS College Foundation (Norfolk, VA): 114 units
  • Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance: 91 units

Badges Earned:

  • NCAN Certified Advisor: 7
  • Admissions Advising: 11
  • Financial Aid: 10
  • Target Populations: 3
  • Student Outcomes: 1

Connecting College and Career Success: With the support of Strada Education Network, NCAN increased professional development on how career exploration and planning services help students meet their postsecondary education goals. Through blog posts and webinars, NCAN offered information about strategies such as:

  • Providing work-based learning experiences through internships for students in both secondary and postsecondary institutions.
  • Using tools such as career interest inventories to identify student interests and skills, and using this information to advise students on their postsecondary/career selection;
  • Accessing data to understand trends in labor markets to advise students on making good choices in their postsecondary/career selection.

NCAN also hosted one-day Spring Training meetings in Indianapolis, Houston, Phoenix, and Providence and released a summary white paper, Connecting College and Career Success: Lessons on Advising, Data, and Partnerships.

NCAN's Organizational Health: NCAN ended 2026-17 with 383 members, an all-time high, and 83 percent of organizations renewed their membership from the prior year. Many thanks to those who all who pay their member dues and take time to volunteer by providing conference workshops and webinars, responding to surveys and requests for feedback, participating in live chats, or serving on our Board of Directors, Policy Council, or Rapid Response Policy Team. In fact, interest in NCAN's policy advocacy increased substantially in 2016-17, with twice as many members volunteering for the Rapid Response Team as the prior year.

In other notable NCAN developments:

  • The 2016 annual conference in Detroit broke the thousand-mark for the first time with 1,078 registrants.
  • NCAN distributed $165,000 of regrants and scholarships to members, primarily for professional development and implementation of free SAT prep programming.
  • The 2017 annual member survey found that 85 percent of respondents agreed that "NCAN membership helps me do my job better."
  • The top three highest valued member services in the member survey were:
    • Success Digest weekly e-newsletter
    • Member-only webinars
    • Policy/advocacy

NCAN ended the year in good financial health, with positive net revenue equivalent to 9 percent of total expense.

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