September 14, 2023

Marion County schools get $4M to help students complete college financial aid application

Students at North Central High School in MSD of Washington Township will benefit from a $177,750 grant to help helping them apply for financial aid.  - WFYI file photo

Students at North Central High School in MSD of Washington Township will benefit from a $177,750 grant to help helping them apply for financial aid.

WFYI file photo

Marion County school districts and community organizations are receiving nearly $4 million in grants as part of an effort to boost college enrollment by helping students apply for financial aid.

Indiana high school seniors are now required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, by April 15 as part of their graduation requirements. The legislation passed earlier this year with overwhelming bipartisan support following the state's filing rate lagging in recent years.

In 2023, only 39.3 percent of Marion County seniors completed the FAFSA, a vital way for students to qualify for federal grants and loans to pay for college.  

To aid schools in adjusting to the new filing mandate, the Indianapolis-based Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation is funding the one-time grants as part of a new initiative.

The Metropolitan School District of Pike Township received  $200,000. Torriah Buckley, the district’s graduation coach, says the money will support more students in financial aid applications by creating a college access coordinator position. 

“They are going to be dedicated to assisting students with the FAFSA completion in the application process, creating a team, which may include staff and maybe some student ambassadors to conduct peer outreach, and help plan events focused on FAFSA completion and college application,” said Buckley. 

Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township will get $240,000. Rebecca Daugherty-Saunders, the district’s Director of College and Career Readiness, said a majority of their grant money will go toward a new college and career readiness software for students. They also created a college planning team to attend community events and are hiring translators to ease communication with Spanish-speaking families.

Claire Fiddian-Green, CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, said students need support to navigate through the process of filing out the FAFSA. 

“So with the new FAFSA mandate, that's encouraging, but still students and families and schools are going to need support to help make sure that families complete that form successfully,” Fiddian-Green said. “And then you actually take the step for students to apply to college.” 

The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation also awarded a three-year $363,000 grant to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education to support communication with schools and families. 

This work, alongside a collaboration with INvestEd, an Indiana nonprofit organization whose mission is to help students and their families with the education planning process, will help ensure all organizations are maximizing the resources made available by the state.

Fiddian-Green says that although it is a one-time grant, she’s hoping that the money will help boost implementation and help connect schools and families with the Commission for Higher Education going forward. 

Of all 2020 Marion County high school graduates, only 49.2 percent enrolled in college. And those numbers have sharply declined in the last ten years. Indiana ranks 43rd nationally in post-secondary attainment, with only 29 percent of adults over age 25 having a Bachelor’s degree. 

The grant recipients: 

  • Beech Grove City Schools - $160,000
  • Christel House Indianapolis - $160,000
  • Herron Classical Schools - $200,000 
  • Indianapolis Public Schools - $240,000
  • Irvington Community Schools - $145,000
  • KIPP Indy Public Schools - $150,000
  • MSD of Lawrence Township - $240,000 
  • MSD of Pike Township - $200,000
  • MSD of Warren Township - $240,000 
  • MSD of Washington Township - $177,750
  • MSD of Wayne Township - $240,000
  • Phalen Leadership Academies - $150,000 
  • Purdue Polytechnic High School - $160,000
  • Victory College Prep - $150,000 
  • Center for Leadership Development - $300,000
  • Indiana Black Expo - $300,000 
  • Indiana Latino Institute - $450,000
  • Indianapolis Urban League - $300,000

The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation is among the financial supporters of initiatives based at WFYI.

Contact WFYI Marion County education reporter Sydney Dauphinais at sdauphinais@wfyi.org.

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