Filling Out Nicely

In 2010, CICF’s College Readiness and Success Initiative began the 21st Century Scholar Enrollment Challenge in order to get more low-income students enrolled in the 21st Century Scholars program and on their way to a college education. Established in 1990 by the State of Indiana, the Scholars program encourages low-income middle school students to prepare for post-secondary opportunities. In exchange for academic and civic accomplishments during high school, enrolled students receive post-secondary tuition assistance to attend any public College or university in the State of Indiana.

But until the Enrollment Challenge, only 39 percent of eligible students in Marion County entered into the program. In its first year, the Enrollment Challenge helped an additional 1,300 Marion County eight-graders enroll by providing a small incentive to encourage school counselors to connect their students to the program. The Enrollment Challenge was expanded to Hamilton County in 2012.

College Readiness and Success is now targeting the next step in the process—the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—as means of getting more low-income students into college using a similar model to the original Challenge.

The premise is straightforward: students cannot receive badly needed federal financial aid if their families don’t complete and submit the Free Application for Student Federal Aid (FAFSA) on time. Eight schools in Marion County were in the FAFSA Challenge pilot program in 2013, which included a similar incentive to the Enrollment Challenge. The results were equally meaningful.

Of the eight schools, two (Ben Davis and Decatur) increased their FAFSA completion rate among seniors by double-digits (22 and 10 percent, respectively). Ben Davis has more than 1,000 students per grade, Decatur approximately 300-400, making these significant increases. Even better, the Challenge is another encouragement for families to complete their tax returns (since much of the information necessary for the FAFSA can be found on tax forms).

Read more about CICF’s commitment to expanding College Readiness and Success in central Indiana.

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