Every College-ready Student in Delaware’s 2015 Graduating Class Applies for Postsecondary Learning Opportunities
“Getting to Zero” is a partnership between the Delaware Department of Education, school districts and charter high schools, counselors and the College Board that was launched in 2013 by Gov. Jack Markell to boost the college-going rate among students who hit the college-ready benchmark of at least 1550 (out of 2400) on the SAT. Before the launch of the initiative, only about 82 percent of those students applied for college.
“Throughout the country, we know that students with the potential to succeed in college never apply at all or don’t apply to as many schools as they should,” Gov. Markell said. “For many of them, college is not part of their family’s experience or they are unable to overcome financial concerns. We can remove these barriers. Our public schools and teachers are focusing on getting our high school graduates ready to be successful in college or their careers. We must ensure they have the support they need to take the next steps—applying, finding financial assistance and then enrolling.”
This year’s campaign began in the fall, with the Governor and Department of Education leadership touring each high school to speak to students about the importance of continuing their education and training beyond graduation and let them know about the support the state would provide to assist them, including through access to financial aid opportunities.
Throughout the year, counselors track which students have applied, follow up with those who haven’t, help them apply for scholarships and organize FAFSA workshops. This year, for the first time, every high school participated in College Application Month in October and November, allowing seniors to fill out applications during school hours with the help of volunteers. College Application Month is the result of a partnership between the Department of Education and the University of Delaware’s Institute of Public Administration. Also for the first time, all Delaware colleges waived their fees for Delaware students who applied. Additionally, through the partnership with College Board, students who are low-income received fee-waivers to apply to as many as 8 colleges depending on their SAT score range.
With the help of counselors and after-school sessions, Nicole was accepted by the University of Delaware, West Chester University, Widener University and Wilmington University. She said the FAFSA was “one of the more intimidating parts” of the process. But guidance from Stand by Me, a program sponsored by the Department of Education for all high schools, made it easier.
“Going to college is a very exciting thing for me,” she said. “It can make me emotional to think about it because my parents never had this opportunity and they left their country to give me the opportunities I’ve had.”
She plans to major in elementary education so that she can help other students the way her teachers helped her, when she was still learning to speak English.
“Nicole is a great example of how the state gains from helping these young people fulfill their potential by going on to college,” Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said. “The goal of everything we do in our public schools is giving our students the best chance to reach their potential after they leave high school and that means ensuring they have access to the postsecondary education and training that will help them do that.”
Ke’Asiah Faulkner, a senior at Paul M. Hodgson Vocational Technical High School in Newark, will also be the first in her family to attend college when she enrolls this fall at Howard University, one of four schools where she was accepted. She said her family always expected her to go to college, but the process to get there has been overwhelming.
“My family made sure I was always on track and ready to graduate, but when it came to actually applying and completing the FAFSA, no one in my family had ever done it,” Ke’Asia said.
Ke’Asiah credits Getting to Zero’s College Application Month with giving her the tools she needed to understand the college-application process.
This is the second straight year that every college-ready student applied for college, post-secondary vocational training programs or the military. Delaware high school counselors reported that 98 percent of those who applied last year took active steps to enroll and one percent entered the military. About 77 percent of college-ready students completed the FAFSA in the Class of 2014.
One student who received help from “Getting to Zero” in 2014 was Sara Hernandez, a graduate of Lake Forest High School in Felton who enrolled last fall at Virginia Tech as an engineering major. She said Virginia Tech was her “reach” school but the state’s assistance with application fees encouraged her to go for it.
“This program let my friends and me see that we could apply to college and it encouraged us to apply to different schools,” she said. “This was a game-changer for us. Otherwise, I would never have applied for as many colleges as I did.”
She gave a lot of credit to her school counselor at Lake Forest. “Knowing there are people who think you belong in places you don’t necessarily think you belong in or can reach is powerful,” she said.
Elements of Getting to Zero include:
- In partnership with the College Board, which offers the SAT and AP tests, packets that include letters from Gov. Markell and Secretary Murphy, as well as information about applying to college and financial aid opportunities, were sent in the fall.
- Through the partnership with College Board, students who are low-income received up to 8 fee waivers to cover the cost of the application fees based on their SAT score range.
- Every high school in the state gave students time during the school day during College Application Month in the fall to apply to college, with assistance from volunteers.
- College Information Nights for Parents were held in all three counties, in partnership with the Delaware PTA.
- Counselors used a statewide electronic data system to keep track of which students have applied.
- A college-going calendar ensured students were aware of important deadlines.
- Beginning on May 1, schools will host ceremonies to celebrated National Decision Day, when students are supposed to commit to which college they plan to attend.
To encourage FAFSA completion:
- Through the U.S. Department of Education, the state offered FAFSA training for school counselors and community organizations that help students and families with financial aid.
- Stand By Me offered a menu of services related to financial aid and the FAFSA to 32 high schools.
- Starting in February, the Department of Education provided bi-weekly reports on which students had completed the FAFSA to districts, principals and counselors.
- A state-wide text messaging program is sending three messages per month to seniors to remind them to fill out FAFSA and apply for scholarships. DOE staff respond to questions sent by text.
- With community partner organizations, the Department held Financial Aid Week in February during which families could get one-on-one assistance completing FAFSA.
- The DOE published the Delaware Scholarship Compendium, which included information on scholarships and financial aid to all high schools. The state offers over $3 million in scholarships through DOE’s Higher Education Office.