Campaign breaks down college barriers

DOVER — With the help of the state’s “Getting to Zero” campaign, all 1,466 “college-ready” seniors in the class of 2015 applied to college or other post-secondary education programs.

Nearly 80 percent of them completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid application, an increase from last year, the state Department of Education announced last week.

“Getting to Zero” is a partnership between the Department of Education, school districts and charter high schools, counselors and the College Board that was launched in 2013 by Gov. Jack Markell.

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. Also for the first time, all Delaware colleges waived their fees for students who applied.

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. Also for the first time, all Delaware colleges waived their fees for students who applied.

The goal is to boost the rate of students going to college who hit the 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.

Beginning in the fall, state leaders toured Delaware high schools to speak to students about the importance of continuing their education and let them know about the support the state would provide to assist them.

Throughout the year, counselors tracked which students applied, followed up with those who didn’t, helped 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. Also for the first time, all Delaware colleges waived their fees for students who applied. Through the partnership with College Board, students who are low-income received fee-waivers to apply to as many as eight colleges depending on their SAT score range.

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.for it.

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 Delaware Education Secretary Mark 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 eight 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 department 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.

Reach the Delaware State News newsroom at newsroom@newszap.com

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