When working to increase FASFA rates, cradle to career partnerships are always looking for proven, easy to replicate strategies that lead to results. Through the work of the Postsecondary Enrollment Impact and Improvement Network, we know the effective strategies used to make sure that more students successfully completed the FAFSA.

1. Implement In-Class Interventions

In most states, FAFSA completion work can be used to meet state curriculum standards. Partnering with high school economics or social studies teachers to have students complete FAFSA as a class or homework assignment provides them with the opportunity and support needed to complete the FAFSA.

2. Use Student-Level and/or School-Level Data

In most states, school districts have the ability to track FAFSA completion at the school- and/or student-level. Using school-level or, better yet, the student-level helps to identify the students who are or are not completing the FAFSA. This allows school districts and their partners to focus their work on the specific students or schools that needs the most support.

3. Build a School- Campus-Based FAFSA Team

School- or Campus-Based FAFSA teams improve staff awareness about the importance of FAFSA completion and how they can help. Convening a team (assistant principal, guidance counselor, central office staff, Gear Up partners, etc.) on a monthly basis allows its members to review the data and discuss strategies for how to reach students who have yet to complete the FAFSA.

4. Host FAFSA Only Events

The most successful FAFSA events, like a FAFSA completion night, were the ones that just focused on FAFSA because it created the space and time for students and families to focus. Identifying a champion for each event helped determine the best time of day for the event to ensure the best attendance possible.

5. Assign Appointment Times

Assigning students an appointment time to complete the FAFSA, either during a completion event or during the school day, makes the meeting or event seem mandatory. The appointment times were not strictly enforced, there was no penalty for missing an appointment but the assumed accountability associated with the appointment time dramatically increased completion rates.

6. Frequent Data Monitoring

Most school districts across the country have the ability to access weekly or bi-weekly FAFSA completion data either form their state’s department of education or the U.S. Department of Education. Monitoring completion rates either weekly or bi-weekly allows school district staff and community partners to get quick feedback the effectiveness of their FAFSA completion work and helps keep FAFSA completion at the front of everyone’s mind.

7. Partner with Local Postsecondary Institutions

Partnering with local postsecondary institutions can help significantly with FAFSA completion. Financial aid staff are experts in their field and can provide additional capacity and support during FAFSA completion efforts. Additionally, financial aid staff can provide insight on what is specifically preventing students from getting the financial aid they have applied for – often times it’s a simple as a missing social security number or mismatched identification numbers.

8. Connect Work to its Impact with Run Charts

Run Charts, or time series charts, can be used to connect FAFSA completion work with the result (the number of FAFSAs completed during the work period). As a result, run charts are incredibly powerful tools so partnerships who want to understand the impact their work is having on students.

9. Create a FAFSA Phone Bank

Having a scheduled event where parents, guardians and students can call in to ask questions about completing the FAFSA was a very successful way to reach families who didn’t want or need to attend a completion event.

10. Test Small Before Going Big

All of our teams focused on FAFSA completion selected a specific population of students or high school as the focus of their initial work. With each intervention this allowed the teams to learn what worked well and what could be improved before scaling the work across multiple high schools or multiple districts.




Over the past year, six communities across the country have been participating in StriveTogether’s Postsecondary Enrollment (PSE) Impact and Improvement Network. The goal is to increase FAFSA completion in their communities. FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). An increase in FAFSA completion means more students have access to financial aid for, and access to, college.

Using a combination of continuous improvement techniques, Results Based Leadership tools and an equity focus, we’ve achieved great success!

  • 5 out of 6 partnerships: Increased FAFSA completion rates at the school level
  • 4 out of 6 partnerships: Increased FAFSA completion rates at the district level
  • 3 out of 6 partnerships: Increased FAFSA completion rates by 10% or more

“Our participation [in the PSE Impact and Improvement Network] helped to lay the foundation for setting multi-year goals focused on FAFSA and to build buy-in for the importance of FAFSA regionally.” – Impact Tulsa

The results of the PSE Impact and Improvement are exciting. But, what I find the most interesting about the results is the way that they were achieved. Each partnership used basic continuous improvement techniques like Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) test cycles, run charts and frequent data monitoring and reporting to test their strategies and improve them over time. Here’s why the PSE Impact and Improvement Network members found these tools so useful:

“I believe the biggest benefit of participation is sharing of best practices and tools. When you see the impact of the interventions, it really takes guessing out of the picture and encourages more intentionality.” – PSE Impact & Improvement Network member

“The PDSA helped tremendously to ensure each step was aligned to the overall goal. It helped us operate much more systematically and helped us improve our process.” – Seeding Success

“Mapping interventions to data (even after the fact) helped raise awareness about effective practices.”Commit! Partnership

“Using run charts helped us identify the most promising interventions because we could literally see what worked the best.” – P16 Plus

“Looking at data regularly, and talking about it is important. Regularly updating superintendents, the school teams, our collaborative action group (PACT), and various stakeholders across the community with progress kept the momentum going and created a “middle” space for best practices to rise up and spread.” – All Hands Raised

“Sharing before and after [FAFSA] completion numbers with each event team help them immediately see the need for follow-up events and strategize about students they were missing.” – Road Map Project



Rise Up: Three Insights from the 7th Annual Cradle to Career Network Convening

October 4, 2016
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The 7th Annual Cradle to Career Network Convening was an outstanding success! This is due solely to the great work each and every person in the room does to achieve our ambitious vision – supporting the success of every child from cradle to career – and our short-term goal: Establishing five Proof Points by June […]

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This week Juliette Price, director of The Albany Promise, a Sustaining member of the Cradle to Career Network, will travel to Washington, DC for a very special visit to the White House in which she will be recognized as one of eleven “White House Champions of Change for College Opportunity” for the work she is […]

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September 28, 2016
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Too often, policy can seem inaccessible to the people in charge of, or affected by, its implementation. That’s why, in part, the StriveTogether network has identified four different roles cradle-to-career partnerships can play in policy: Data expert Partner Convener Community Mobilizer Advocate Connecting each of these concepts is one major role: liaison. I’ve been thinking […]

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September 27, 2016
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At the final morning in Memphis, Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York, invited the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network convening attendees to stand for the gatherings they had attended as she cycled through the locations of the last seven years. Once everyone was on their feet, she announced, “Welcome to the […]

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September 22, 2016
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Do you find yourself just doing the work yourself because it will be faster, easier, and done the way you want it to? This was the question that framed Becky Kanis Margiotta, co-founder of The Billions Institute and lunchtime plenary session speaker at StriveTogether’s 2016 Cradle to Career Network Convening. While she was quick to […]

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What Education Excellence for Every Child Really Means

September 21, 2016
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According to Adriane Johnson-Williams, founding facilitator of the Seeding Success partnership in Memphis, TN, the work of collective impact and confronting structural and institutional racism is like a highway. “All lanes must be maintained,” insists Johnson-Williams. “And you need to be able to change lanes when you want to – and not worry about being […]

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In Cincinnati, Systems are Changing and Student Outcomes are Improving

September 20, 2016
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As hundreds of leaders and practitioners across sectors converge in Memphis for StriveTogether’s Cradle to Career Network Convening, we are proud to announce the designation of StrivePartnership of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky as our first Proof Point Community, celebrating the achievements of local partners and institutions working together to change how education systems work […]

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Network in the News: recognition, new leadership, and more

September 8, 2016
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Partnerships are being recognized for their work and planning for the next big thing. E3 Alliance recently released new data about educational outcomes in the local area. They have also developed a partnership with a local TV station to report on education news. Cradle to Career Partnership (formally known as Fresno Area Strive) is listed as one of […]

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