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Alabama educators tour the air conditioning/refrigeration building at Trenholm State.

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Auto Collision Repair Program Coordinator Jon Beckham demonstrates Trenholm’s student resources.

At the second annual Cash for College Alabama celebration at Trenholm State Community College on June 8, educators from around the state gathered to celebrate creating a college-going culture in Alabama.

Willietta Ellis Connor, education specialist at the Alabama State Department of Education, began the day with an overview of the 2016-2017 College Application Week campaign. This year 25,600 high school seniors at 310 schools participating in College Application Week submitted a college application.

Alabama Possible’s Statewide Initiatives Coordinator Ashleigh Staples reviewed 2016-2017 outcomes for Cash for College Alabama, which encourages Alabama high schools to rally around Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion.  This year, 207 high schools participated, and more than 2,000 additional FAFSAs were completed this year over last year. Most Alabama students who complete the FAFSA qualify for Pell Grants of up to $5,920 per year.

Career Coach Meghan King at Tarrant High School, the high school with the highest percentage increase in FAFSA completion last year, spent the year brainstorming ways to incentivize students. As a career coach, she realizes the value of a college degree, and Pell Grants make college attainable for her students.

“The FAFSA requires legal guardian information, so I sent students home with forms to allow busy parents to provide information without taking time to visit the school,” said King. “I helped students complete their FAFSAs at school. However, it can be hard to explain the value of early FAFSA completion, so incentives like pizza and ice cream got students excited about the FAFSA.”

According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, 62 percent of Alabama jobs will require postsecondary education and college degrees. Alabama Possible defines college as the attainment of valuable postsecondary credential beyond high school, including professional/technical certificates and academic degrees, because most degree-requiring jobs now require an associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate.

The educators in attendance toured Alabama Possible Higher Education Alliance Member Trenholm State Community College’s campus to learn more about college options beyond four-year programs. They visited the auto collision repair and air conditioning/refrigeration programs and learned that graduates of colleges like Trenholm are in high demand in Alabama industries requiring a skilled workforce.

Following the tour, the six Cash for College schools with highest the FAFSA completion and greatest increase in FAFSA completion were recognized and awarded $1,000 and $500 grants:

  • Ramsay, Booker T. Washington Magnet, and The Alabama School of Fine Arts had the highest overall FAFSA completion levels.
  • Saraland, Hayden, and Tarrant High Schools had the greatest increase in FAFSA completion.

Schools may use grant money as they see fit. Saraland High School hopes to buy a new computer specifically for FAFSA completion.

“Last year I dug up two ancient desktop computers from our school’s basement and set them up in my office for students and parents to work on FAFSAs,” said Saraland senior counselor Rachel Graham. “A newer computer will definitely streamline the process and allow for more FAFSA completion.”

Booker T. Washington Magnet High School plans to spend the grant money taking seniors on college trips, focusing on tours of vocational programs like Trenholm to show that there are more options than just four-year colleges. Tarrant will add the funds to its student incentive fund for early FAFSA completion.

The Cash for College celebration wrapped up with roundtable discussions and action commitments. Transitioning into the 2017-2018 school year, Alabama Possible and the Alabama State Department of Education are planning a joint application for College Application Week and Cash for College.  Alabama Possible is also planning professional development workshops and technical assistance webinars, and will be promoting College Signing Day in Alabama schools.