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Schools in Rochester benefit from the support of the Rochester College Access Network, an initiative of the Rochester Education Foundation that aims to improve college access for city students.

In partnership with a number of community organizations and higher education institutions, RCAN provides training for volunteers who are interested in helping at FAFSA completion events where students can complete their applications. Their annual FAFSA Fest gives hundreds of students the opportunity to complete their applications at sites throughout the city.

RCAN not only hosts the events at schools, but at locations in the community that are accessible to families, including Boys and Girls clubs and housing authority sites.

“This has become a great community effort here,” said Pat Braus, Executive Director of the Rochester Education Foundation.

Rochester is also one of 25 cities in the country – and the only one in New York State – that was selected to participate in the national FAFSA Completion Contest sponsored by the National College Access Network.

The contest challenges each of the cities to improve its FAFSA completion rate by at least 5 percentage points for the Class of 2019. NCAN will award a $100,000 grand prize in September 2019 to one city that has demonstrated growth in completions, adoption of effective strategies, barriers overcome, and likelihood of sustainability.

The resources provided through RCAN are invaluable to schools such as Young Women’s College Prep Charter School, which with an estimated 50 percent completion rate as of February 1 was one of the highest in the Finger Lakes Region among schools where the majority of students are low-income.

The school, which has a college prep focus, encourages students and parents to attend the FAFSA Fest. Having many of their students complete the applications at the event allows the school to target its follow-up on fewer families, primarily by directly calling parents.

The school starts working with families in the ninth grade to help them understand the process and what they’ll need when it’s time to apply for financial assistance. And counselors help students set up their federal student aid ID in their participation in government class to get the process started.

“We try to plant those seeds early and get them talking about FAFSA so that when they become seniors they know what they need to complete it,” said Angelica Davis-Bernard, YWCP School Counselor.