By Elizabeth Morgan, National College Access Network
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:
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:
Most Popular Units:
NCAN Members with Most Completers:
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:
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:
NCAN ended the year in good financial health, with positive net revenue equivalent to 9 percent of total expense.