Thank You, Members, for a Great 2017-18!

July 3, 2018

By Kim Cook, Executive Director

As June 30 came and went, we at NCAN reflected on an exciting 2017-18 fiscal year in our office, just three blocks from the White House in Washington, D.C. As usual, our efforts would not be possible without our growing network of members committed to improving postsecondary access and success for low-income, first-generation students who have long been underserved in higher education.

Most obviously, every single NCAN member, friend, and employee contributed to an astounding 14-percent increase in membership, to an all-time high of 419 organizations and 16 additional individuals. More than 90 of those members – most recently the Heckscher Foundation for ChildrenSalt Lake Community College PACE Scholarship Program, and Northern New Mexico College – came to us this past fiscal year, amplifying our collective voice in the nation’s capital even further during a critical time for our students.

More than 1,000 advocates for college access and success attended NCAN's 22nd annual 
national conference in San Diego in September. 

Clear evidence of that: Members of Congress responded to five years’ worth of advocacy by NCAN and our members to restore the year-round Pell Grant, which helps some low-income students complete college more quickly. They also acknowledged a great need by increasing the amount of the maximum 2018-19 Pell Grant by a larger-than-expected $175. These improvements will help millions of students entering and completing postsecondary education.

These victories also didn’t come easily. As leaders in the executive branch were pushing to reduce public investment in higher education – even as the cost and economic imperative of attending college continue to increase – NCAN and our members stepped up our advocacy. In November we executed our most successful #Thankful4Pell campaign ever, sending 315 emails – a whopping 79 percent more than the year before – to members of Congress explaining why Pell Grants are crucial to our students’ success. With our hashtag spreading the same message to the general public, we also reached upward of 1.6 million people on Twitter. And we capped off our strong year of Pell advocacy with a bold new long-term proposal to restore the grant’s purchasing power.

Meanwhile, thanks to support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NCAN was able to assist 17 new member advocacy grantees in advancing policy priorities like protection of the Pell Grant, FAFSA simplification, and a more effective Federal Work-Study program. They and our broader membership held hundreds of meetings with their elected officials – at the state level, with guidance from our recently released, member-advised state policy toolkit.

Speaking of grantees, we had a lot last fiscal year! Thanks to the strength of the NCAN membership, we raised more than $2.6 million that we re-granted to members. This is the largest amount of re-grants NCAN has ever offered and allowed us to put more money in the field for learning about best practices and policies.

We also broke new ground in this area, realizing a long-standing wish of funding for effective postsecondary success practices in K-12 schools by providing future technical assistance for 20 grantees in the Gates Foundation’s “To and Through” Advising Challenge. These school districts will become NCAN members and join us in Pittsburgh next month for our national conference, which is on track to be one of our largest ever. (On that note, we were thrilled to meet with Mr. Gateshimself last year to talk about ways to #FixFAFSA.) At the postsecondary level, we re-granted funding from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to help college access organizations establish or significantly expand success programing, and we delved deeper into ways to connect college and career success with a grant from Strada Education Network. We also continued to build on what works, launching our second FAFSA Completion Challenge with support from The Kresge Foundation and Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates. This year, 25 U.S. cities received up to $40,000 each to raise local completion rates by at least 5 percentage points, and vie for a $100,000 grand prize based on a holistic review of their grant work.

This fantastic support from funders validates our members’ work – as do the data. Our latest Benchmarking Report showed that students served by college access and success programs enroll in and complete college at rates exceeding their peers and approaching national averages.

Another shattered record in 2017-18: use of our e-learning platform, Fundamentals for College Access & Success Providers. As we continued to expand our offerings with a two-year grant from ECMC Foundation, more than 2,000 units on financial aid, admissions advising, special populations and more were completed – an increase over last year of more than 45 percent. Given the clear demand for this professional development service, we’re excited to announce today that this coming year, all e-learning units will again be free for members (up to 100 per organization)!

There’s much more to look forward to in 2018-19, too. NCAN will be reaching out to members as we develop our next three-year strategic plan for 2019-22, with new grant funding from the Travelers Foundation. In 2020, we will celebrate our 25th anniversary, and we want to be sure that our plan is worthy of this milestone for our field.

Until then, recent new hires including a Director of Member and Partner Engagement, Member Services Associate, and Advocacy Associate will keep NCAN fully staffed to provide another year of free webinars, Success Digest newsletters, and other member benefits.

We look forward to another exciting year propelling our movement forward. That momentum is and will continue to be rooted in our members and in the remarkable students we support to overcome the obstacles in front of them. Our students are our daily work but also our deepest inspiration, and our growing bank of student stories demonstrates their diversity, capability, and resilience. We thank our members for reaffirming that they – equipped with the right skills and experiences – can obtain the education that they know will make them better contributors to our economy and democracy. And we'll see you all in Pittsburgh in September for #NCAN2018!

Virginia College Advising Corps College Advisor Ally Clement (front, center) blew past the nationwide FAFSA completion average of 61 percent to have 83 percent of her seniors complete this year at Basset High School in Henry County, VA.

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