Citywide Effort Pushes for 70 Percent FAFSA Completion Rate

(Newark, NJ) — Today, Newark officially launched its first effort to increase the percentage of Newark high school seniors who complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Mayor Ras J. Baraka and city leaders Reginald Lewis, Executive Director of the Newark City of Learning Collaborative; Catherine Wilson, President and CEO of the United Way of Greater Newark; and Jeffrey Trzeciak, Director of the Newark Public Library; held a press conference at Newark City Hall on Thur., Oct. 31, to unveil the Newark FAFSA Challenge. The Newark FAFSA Challenge is a citywide initiative that aims to increase the city’s FAFSA completion rate to 70 percent by June 2020, a 10-percentage point increase over the June 2019 rate of 60 percent.

“We want every single one of our graduating seniors to have the greatest opportunities imaginable to advance their education and achieve their goals in life, whether they are in the arts, sciences, business, the law, medicine, engineering, and public service. The costs of achieving these dreams and goals have risen vastly, and we as a city and caring community must do everything in our power to enable our youth to achieve them. These young men and women of today are the future leaders of tomorrow, and how we create a more educated city today will create a more empowered, safer, equitable, and collaborative city,” said Mayor Baraka.

Nationally, 90 percent of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA will immediately enroll in college, a key predictor of eventual college completion. The FAFSA and, by extension, financial readiness for college are important aspects of the transition for prospective college students.

Despite its importance for college preparation, the FAFSA remains a significant hurdle for low-income students in particular. Low-income students are less likely to complete the FAFSA for a variety of reasons, including “verification melt.” Verification melt refers to low-income students disproportionately being required to verify their family’s income (an estimated 50 percent of low-income students compared to 30 percent of students overall). As a result, 22 percent of those students never complete the FAFSA.

“The Newark FAFSA Challenge has the potential to generate over $3 million more in state and federal grant money for Newark’s graduating high school class of 2020,” said Reginald Lewis, Executive Director of the Newark City of Learning Collaborative. “With all of Newark coming together for the first time to support our students and families with completing the FAFSA, so many more of our young people will have the resources to pay for college.”

Newark now joins a host of locales around the country who lead their own FAFSA Challenges, including Detroit, Baltimore, and the state of Florida.

The Newark FAFSA Challenge’s signature sponsors are the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, the United Way of Greater Newark, and the Newark Public Library. Additional partners supporting the effort include the Mayor’s Office, the Newark Board of Education, the Essex County Schools of Technology, and several local colleges and community organizations.

“The Newark Public Library is a proud partner with the Newark City of Learning Collaborative and United Way of Greater Newark. We are pleased to be working together to simplify processes and make it easier for Newarkers to be able to get into college,” said Jeffrey Trzeciak, Director of the Newark Public Library.

A key feature of the Newark FAFSA Challenge is its promise to offer personal assistance to high school seniors and their parents to complete the complex application. Nine designated hubs are located in each Newark ward where trained volunteers will offer personal FAFSA completion assistance through June 2020. The hubs also house kiosks with financial aid information.

“United Way of Greater Newark has worked to recruit and train volunteers to help families through the FAFSA process. With a mission to disrupt poverty, we believe college is a pathway towards a bright future and recognize the FAFSA process can be complicated,” said Catherine Wilson, President and CEO of the United Way of Greater Newark. “The efforts of our experts and volunteers have made this process both easier and less cumbersome for families, helping students gain much needed financial aid towards the completion of their degree.”

For more information about the Newark FAFSA Challenge, the list of designated hubs, and dates of FAFSA completion events, visit