Fairbanks Foundation launches $10M second phase of College Matters initiative

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The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation in Indianapolis on Tuesday launched the second phase of its College Matters initiative to boost college enrollment rates in Marion County.

The second phase, known as College Matters: Reversing the Trend, will provide up to $9.7 million for up to six public high schools to develop their own plans to get more students into college.

“We want to make sure that more of our high school students are successfully enrolling in and graduating from college,” said Fairbanks President and CEO Claire Fiddian-Green. “That will be good for them as individuals and then also good for our economy.”

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Fiddian-Green said there is a growing need for people with education past high school.

“By the year 2031, more than 70% of jobs will require some form of education after high school, and, unfortunately, Indiana is really not on track to meet that demand,” she said. “Only about 39% of adults in Indiana over the age of 25 have an associate’s degree or higher, and our college enrollment rates have declined precipitously, down from 65% about 10 years or so ago to 53% today. So College Matters is an initiative…designed to try to turn that trajectory around.”

The first phase launched in September, providing more than $4 million to Marion County schools, community organizations and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

That funding was designed to help schools adjust to a new requirement passed this year by the Indiana General Assembly to require all high school seniors to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

“We also have a new FAFSA form being released by the federal government at the end of this year,” Fiddian-Green said. “So there are a lot of changes, and phase one was designed to give a boost to schools and some of the partners that they work with in the community to make sure they’re getting all the accurate information from the state, and that they are well prepared to help their students and their families meet those new requirements in the next two years.”

Phase two of College Matters launched with a request for applications from Marion County public high schools to receive resources to plan and implement their college enrollment strategies.

The foundation is partnering with national research firm Mathematica, which identified three key strategies that schools can implement to help their students successfully enroll in college: strengthen college and career counseling; increase families’ financial awareness and help students apply for financial aid; and bolster students’ academic preparation for college.

Any eligible public high school in Marion County can apply for one of up to six, $20,000 short-term planning grants. Schools can use the funding to develop four-year plans to increase college enrollment, with an emphasis on Black and Latino students, as well as students from low-income households.

The schools selected for the planning grants will work with Mathematica to design their comprehensive plans, with an additional focus on sustaining the plans beyond the four-year grant period.

Proposals for the planning grants are due by 12 p.m. on Feb. 1, with the grant recipients being notified by March 25.

The schools that receive the planning grants will then be able to submit a proposal for implementation grants of up to $1.5 million each.

“That will be a four-year implementation initiative where schools will implement their plan and then plan for sustainability at the end of the grant period,” said Fiddian-Green. “Mathematica will come alongside schools track all the metrics and outcomes, making sure that we’re actually helping those students successfully enroll in college.”

The foundation says more than half of Marion County’s 2021 high school graduates did not enroll in college within one year. Fiddian-Green said while the College Matters initiative will only provide funding for six schools, the effort could serve as a model for other schools to implement plans on their own.

“Our hope is that you see some really great success stories coming out of those six grant recipients,” she said. “And that is information that we will gladly share with other schools here in Marion County and elsewhere that are looking to model what those six grant recipients will be doing.”

Fiddian-Green said other states that have put FAFSA mandates in place similar to the one passed this year in Indiana have seen a big boost in FAFSA completion rates in the initial year after the mandate, but the foundation wants to ensure that more is done to ensure students are actually enrolling in college.

“It really is going to take all of us working together to reverse the decline that we’ve seen in Marion County and the rest of the state in terms of FAFSA completion rates and college enrollment rates,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to come alongside schools and the students and families that they serve.”

You can learn more about College Matters by clicking here.

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