P16Plus: Helping Kids Fund Their Future with Collective Impact

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Members of the College Advising Corps and San Antonio Education Partnership celebrate a student's completed FAFSA at McCollum. Courtesy photo.

Members of the College Advising Corps and San Antonio Education Partnership celebrate a student's completed FAFSA at McCollum. Courtesy photo.

It is a voice that can make us laugh, make us smile; make us appreciate a golden time that we once knew. Yet now and more than ever it is a voice that makes us stand up straight and listen, a voice that holds fervor, purpose, and irreversible determination.

It is the voice of the youth, and in this community it can be heard clearly and powerfully through the members of the San Antonio Youth Commission (SAYC), city-council appointed high-school leaders who provide an outlet for fellow students to express their voice through advocacy, community service, and social media.

It is my great privilege as the Facilitator and Youth Coordinator at P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County to gather every month with 22 of the best and brightest of our future politicians, nonprofit organizers, business leaders, and new-world entrepreneurs. You can find us at Café College and various community organizations deliberating, acting, and positively leaving an impression upon the city that has helped shape our growth. Our work takes us into partnerships with Café Commerce, SaySí, TEDxYouthSanAntonio, Generation TX San Antonio, and SA2020.

The faces of the San Antonio Youth Commission. Courtesy photo.

The faces of the San Antonio Youth Commission. Courtesy photo.

We are the San Antonio Youth Commission, and most recently we teamed up with Student Aid San Antonio (SASA) to get the youth engaged and enthused about completing their financial aid forms in order to fund their college education. The commissioners have been working hard to spread the word at their respective institutions, utilizing presentations, poster campaigns, and dynamic announcements in order to get their fellow students out to SASA’s five main events and to Café College to get support with their forms. They have also had the unique opportunity to work with KSAT to film short videos for the SASA website, and represent the youth voice at the SASA kick-off press conference. They are thrilled to be able to bring excitement and awareness to this campaign, and share their stories with the youth of San Antonio.

If you are a parent of a student needing financial aid to attend college, or a student yourself who needs support, please come out to any one of the Alamo Colleges this Saturday, March 7 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. to receive the guidance you need and get the money you deserve for college. Check out the full schedule here.

As we learned in my last article on P16Plus, our model of collective impact entails involving multiple partnerships in an intentional and practical way to reach our goals. It is only through the constant communication, sharing of vision, measuring of data, and mutually reinforcing activities that we espouse, that we can achieve the success we desire.

In 2011, leaders from around the city in the world of financial aid realized that increasing the college enrollment gap in Bexar County meant making college more affordable, and the greatest opportunity to do that was through the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and other financial aid forms, including the Texas Application for Student Financial Aid (TASFA).   Last year their efforts culminated in helping almost 1,100 students complete their financial aid forms, with close to 11,000 completing city-wide. Nationally, about 90% of students who filed their FAFSA enrolled in post secondary education, but 7,000 Bexar County high school seniors went without filing their financial aid forms. We have a long way to go in getting our seniors their readily available (and easily reachable) funds for higher education.

2015 rung in the New Year with brand new leadership behind Student Aid San Antonio and a goal to increase last year’s number of completions by 5%.

At the helm of this year’s initiative is SRG Athletics President Brandon Logan, who is working hand in hand with leaders from Trinity University’s College Advising Corps, the San Antonio Education Partnership (housed at Café College), the San Antonio Youth Commission, SA2020, as well as individuals from sponsoring organizations Firstmark Credit Union and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

The leadership team of Student Aid San Antonio. Courtesy photo.

The leadership team of Student Aid San Antonio. Courtesy photo.

Their mission is a selfless one – to offer free assistance for students and families completing federal and state financial aid completions – and each one of the individuals on board works tirelessly to ensure that they have the greatest turnout possible at each SASA event. Each organization utilizes social media, professional networks, and rallies the support of their staff to get behind the SASA mission and make sure our students are prepared for their next step.   Constant communication is critical to the success of this project, and the leaders are never far from each other’s thoughts when it comes to improving outcomes.

This type of dedication comes through a shared vision, which is clear through the words of the leadership.

“Education beyond high school is a must in order for our young people to build up the skills necessary to meet the demands of the workforce of today and tomorrow,” said Richard Perez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. “The San Antonio business community has taken up the challenge through Student Aid San Antonio.”

Richard Perez displays his support at the SASA kick-off press conference at Café College. Courtesy photo.

Richard Perez displays his support at the SASA kick-off press conference at Café College. Courtesy photo.

Leon Ewing, president and CEO of Firstmark Credit Union affirmed the impact of this cross-sector effort.

“It immediately helps students who need assistance get into college,” Ewing said. “That, in turn, produces a better-educated workforce, which is ultimately good for our community.”

We are measuring our data at every opportunity in order to provide a greater incentive to our parents and students and to create buy-in from the San Antonio community to support these efforts. While an estimated $800 million was awarded to San Antonio students in federal financial aid during the 2012-2013 school year, 52% of that was in the form of student loans, the least ideal of the major financial aid categories of grants, scholarships, loans, and work study.

Nationally, research shows that financial aid does increase college enrollment, persistence, and completion. We also know that the lower your income bracket, the less likely you are to complete the FAFSA, despite that being the cohort that can receive the most benefit from federal aid, according to a study done by the Hechinger Report .

All our activities are thus concentrated and focused around what brings attention to financial aid form completions. While the San Antonio Youth Commission is bringing excitement to the events from a student perspective, SASA leadership is bringing our call to action to nonprofits and businesses alike, media coverage is provided through Univision, the College Advising Corps and SAEP are leading financial aid nights for parents at their high schools, SA2020 is utilizing the blogosphere to communicate the message, the Chamber is networking and involving the support of City Council, and Firstmark Credit Union brings out trained professionals to every SASA event to ensure that families have the support they need.  Mutually reinforcing activities throughout the process ensure that we are bolstering efforts and making the most of the gifts of each organization in order to achieve the highest level of efficacy in our endeavors.

Of all graduates of Bexar County high schools, only 47% enroll in a two or four year Texas public or independent institution in their first year after graduation.

Of all graduates of Bexar County high schools, only 47% enroll in a two or four year Texas public or independent institution in their first year after graduation.

At P16Plus, we know the equation towards increasing college enrollment is a complex one, and it takes a multi-tiered approach with the steadfast contribution of multiple partners from community-based organizations, to business, to the schools and students themselves. But we are convinced that through partnerships such as Student Aid San Antonio, we are arriving one step closer to finding the solution.

*Featured/top image:Members of the College Advising Corps and San Antonio Education Partnership celebrate a student’s completed FAFSA at McCollum. Courtesy photo.

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