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The staff of Niles High School was thrilled to win the Governor’s FAFSA Challenge in the large high school category for the 2019-20 school year! Our school improved its FAFSA completion rate by 26% from the previous school year. Of course, the accomplishment was the result of a group effort.

During the 2019-20 academic year, Niles High School employed its second AdviseMI college adviser, Taylor Nelson. Taylor is an alumna of our high school and embraced the FAFSA Challenge wholeheartedly. She dove right in and planned activities, met with students, and helped families overcome obstacles to FAFSA completion. Our seniors and their families were grateful for the help as they worked through the process.

Community partners also were very supportive. The Niles-Buchanan YMCA reached out to ask how they could assist the high school’s efforts to meet the governor’s challenge. Taylor partnered with them to host a FAFSA completion event on a Saturday morning. Local community colleges also helped by providing resources and staff from both their admission and financial aid offices to help at FAFSA completion nights and during events like College Application Day. Staff from the Berrien College Access Network were also available to help in any way they could.

Aside from planning activities and hosting events, Taylor developed a thorough communication plan to work with the families of students who were eligible for Michigan’s Tuition Incentive Program (TIP). TIP offers tuition assistance for students who are Medicaid recipients. Application to TIP requires a completed FAFSA. Taylor’s goal was to ensure these students could obtain the aid they qualified for. This helped tremendously to boost Niles High School’s overall FAFSA completion numbers, and we helped many of our first-generation, college-going students.

Our successful FAFSA Challenge also involved many teachers who supported the effort and welcomed Taylor into their classrooms to advise and assist students. In particular, the senior class English teachers and personal finance teacher enlisted her help to educate seniors about the FAFSA and how to understand financial-aid packages offered by colleges.

The Niles High School message about FAFSA completion was thorough and consistent throughout the school year. Families appreciated the assistance and we saw a huge increase in completion rates compared to the last several graduating classes. We are already excited about the challenge to improve our numbers again this year.