For too many students across the country, poverty and systemic barriers make it difficult to apply for, enroll in, and complete a college education. For low-income students, cost is often the biggest barrier. While there are many opportunities for students to access financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships, one out of every three high school graduates in 2017 did not complete the requisite Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, leaving a staggering $2.3 billion in federal grant money on the table. That’s a missed opportunity that Oakland students can scarcely afford. The city estimates that just 10 percent of Oakland public school students graduate from college within five years.
In 2016, mayor Libby Schaaf launched Oakland Promise, a “cradle-to-career” initiative that addresses barriers to college access spanning the entire educational pipeline, from early childhood through career placement. By 2025, the city aims to triple the number of college graduates from Oakland public schools. In just two years, Oakland Promise has launched college and career hubs in two high schools and has increased FAFSA completion to over 90% in those schools. Oakland Promise schools saw a 13% increase in four-year college enrollment in the program’s inaugural year, with much of the gains coming from low-income and first-generation college-going students.
Despite this remarkable progress, low FAFSA completion rates continue to pose a significant challenge. Most of the funding for Oakland Promise programs and scholarships is generated through private philanthropy, making the initiative vulnerable to year-over-year fluctuations in giving. A smaller portion of funding is provided by the Oakland Unified School District. The district is facing a financial crisis and was forced to enact $9 million in budget cuts last year, with potentially more to come. The city will not be able to meet its goal of giving every child the opportunity to go to college without maximizing state and federal aid dollars awarded to Oakland students.
To support this work, the City of Oakland will partner with FUSE Corps to host an executive-level fellow for one year who will develop a plan to enhance college affordability, including addressing barriers to FAFSA completion. Barriers include lack of awareness of federal financial aid, a lengthy application process for first-time applicants, and concerns about sharing personal and family financial information, particularly in lower-income communities. Removing these barriers and rendering the process of applying for federal aid more accessible and transparent for families is a crucial step toward improving college access and affordability.
Project Summary & Potential Deliverables
The following provides a general overview of the proposed fellowship project. This project summary and the potential deliverables that follow will be collaboratively revisited by the host agency, the fellow, and FUSE staff during the first few months of the fellowship, after which a revised scope of work will be developed and agreed upon by the FUSE Fellow and the host agency.
Starting in September 2018, it is proposed the FUSE Fellow will develop a comprehensive plan to maximize the financial resources available to Oakland families for college application, enrollment, and completion. The fellow will conduct in-depth research into the city’s college affordability gap and identify barriers that prevent or discourage families from applying for financial aid. While a primary focus of the project will be FAFSA, the fellow will explore opportunities to leverage other sources of financing, such as scholarships, tuition waivers, and the California Dream Act.
If appropriate, the fellow may wish to develop differentiated strategies based on students’ degree of financial need. Strategies can include targeted outreach, capacity building, use of new digital tools, and proposed changes to public policy. A successful fellowship will have laid the groundwork for the city’s goal of tripling the number of college graduates from Oakland public schools by 2025 and, eventually, to enable every student to complete college regardless of socioeconomic background. The plan should have a high degree of buy-in from external stakeholders and offer tangible, equity-oriented recommendations for removing barriers to college success.
- Support the development of a national model for college access, affordability, and persistence: Develop an evidence-based, best-practices framework that can be applied in other cities. Document strategies taken in Oakland in case studies or other formats to help disseminate best practices. Identify philanthropic institutions that would support the longer-term objective of developing a national model that can be replicated in other cities.
- Analyze and assess the college affordability landscape: Conduct a literature review and data analysis and consult with city and external stakeholders to understand the size and nature of the college affordability gap in Oakland by school and disaggregated by key subgroups. The analysis should identify the students most affected and the most significant barriers. Create a map of available financing mechanisms and eligibility requirements. Identify opportunities to more effectively leverage available funding sources.
- Develop a comprehensive strategic plan to improve college access and persistence: Identify specific strategies to enhance college affordability in close consultation with city officials, educators, students, parents, members of the school board and city council, and nonprofit and community groups. Determine the most effective ways to engage families in the process of completing the FAFSA to apply for federal financial aid. Use available data to analyze student demographics, cost per outcome, per-student cost per program, return on investment for funders, and other metrics to help make the business case for these strategies. Make recommendations for how internal processes or structures can be transformed to enhance efficiency and effectiveness.
- Support long-term implementation: Solicit feedback and buy-in from major stakeholders. Ensure that the necessary internal and external systems are in place to ensure that strategies are sustainable and successfully implemented. Work with city agencies and external contractors to ensure that the appropriate interim and long-term metrics are in place to monitor progress. Support internal and external capacity-building efforts as necessary.
- David Silver, Director of Education for Mayor Libby Schaaf, Office of the Mayor, Libby Schaaf
- Ay’Anna Moody, Future Center Project Director, Office of the Mayor, Libby Schaaf
- At least 15 years of professional experience in management consulting, project management, or marketing management, particularly with a strong background in customer success, marketing campaigns, process improvement, and/or strategic planning.
- Superior critical thinking and analytical skills.
- Ability to synthesize complex information into clear and concise recommendations.
- Ability to relate to a wide variety of diverse audiences with strong emotional intelligence and empathy.
- Excellent stakeholder engagement skills and the ability to use facilitative leadership techniques to coordinate stakeholder activities.
- Self-motivated, goal-oriented, entrepreneurial leader who can also be an independent worker.
- Persistent in obtaining information and creatively resourceful in identifying solutions to complex problems.
- Ability to create direction and movement within potentially ambiguous environments.
- Exceptional written and verbal communication skills with an ease in public presentations.
- Understands the need for solutions to support all people in a community regardless of race, religion, gender, immigration status, or ethnicity.