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College readiness means financial readiness, too

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For the past several years, the city of Philadelphia has been implementing a FAFSA completion campaign involving the college prep community, school districts, and most of the high schools, offering some 100 workshops annually for students and families focused on filling out the FAFSA form.
Current Mayor Michael Nutter seeks to double the college attainment rate, which Terri White – the City of Philadelphia Office of Education's Higher Education Advisor to Mayor Nutter – focuses on.

"[We] bring stakeholders together and ask: How do we create better structures to increase college attainment?" she says. "In our conversations in looking at data, students were getting engaged in the college admission process but we didn't see an increase in enrollment. We realized that even though students are engaged in the FAFSA process they were not necessarily completing the process; they would hit the 'submit' button and think that part was completed."
They started having conversations about that disconnect, and three years ago launched the Financing College Campaign. It starts every fall with a series of professional development workshops for high school counselors, college personnel, and anyone else involved in the FAFSA process. They also go over policy updates with each new school year, train staff inside the school districts who work with parents, and have parent resource centers throughout the city.
The campaign emphasizes to both students and administrators the importance of getting ready for college not just academically but also financially. They also have a Campaign for Working Families which offers a software program that helps families complete tax returns, analyze their federal eligibility, and complete the FAFSA all in one session.
But federal assistance isn't always enough to get a student through college, so the city also focuses on scholarships.

"Scholarship applications are now just as important as completing the FAFSA," White says. The Gates Millennium Scholarship is one of the premier scholarships in the community (and in fact is one of the best national scholarships offered). Because it is so prestigious, the application requires eight essays. "If you complete these eight essays, you've also done all your essays for college and for other scholarships." They target students who meet the GPA requirements and provide support on a weekly basis to help them with the application for the Gates scholarship, which in turn also enables the students to apply for other scholarships as well. They have since formalized this program, now calling it Philly Scholars.
When it comes to finding ways to help students finance school and maximizing opportunities to do so, White says, "We have come together as a city around this agenda."

Writer: Nicole Rupersburg
Source: Terri White, City of Philadelphia Office of Education's Higher Education Advisor to Mayor Michael Nutter

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