FutureMakers, a regional call to action initiated by the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, recently awarded incentives to students as part of the FutureMakers “FAFSA Challenge.” The prizes were iPads and a college scholarship.
Four-hundred and forty two high-school seniors at the FutureMakers’ eight partner schools, including Cypress Lake, East Lee, Lehigh, Port Charlotte, Golden Gate, LaBelle and Clewiston high schools and Moore Haven Junior Senior High School were eligible for the drawings upon successful completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
The SWFLCF also joined the Smith Family Foundation in awarding a lucky high-school senior from Port Charlotte a $2,500 college scholarship.
Nicholas Owens, 18, of Port Charlotte High School was the winner of the FutureMakers Smith Family Foundation scholarship drawing. Owens plans to attend Edison State College in the fall and major in criminal justice in order to pursue a career in law enforcement.
The following students were the winners of the iPads: Griffin Janelli, Cypress Lake; Cynthia Auplant, East Lee; Bernie Homicil, Lehigh; Tyler Specht, Port Charlotte; Sherly Latortue, Golden Gate; Yoana Dominguez, LaBelle; Andrea Scott, Clewiston; and Barrion Cohens, Moore Haven Junior Senior High School.
“Less than one-third of high-school seniors in our five-county area fill out the FAFSA,” said Sarah Owen, president and CEO of the SWFLCF. “Understanding what type of financial aid is available and how much they may qualify for can make the difference between going to college or not. We figured a little extra encouragement would help the class of 2014 take its next step toward the educational opportunities that are available to them before graduation.”
According to the Florida College Access Network, it is estimated that during 2012, Florida’s high-school graduates left behind more $100 million in Pell Grants by virtue of not completing the FAFSA form.
“Education is a primary focus for our foundation, and we wanted to support the efforts of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation in this initiative because it is based on research with measurable results,” said Wayne Smith of the Smith Family Foundation.
FutureMakers is the Community Foundation’s first regional call to action that began last year with a team of more than a dozen stakeholders. In addition to the Community Foundation, the coalition includes the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools, Southwest Florida Works, The Education Foundation of Collier County-Champions for Learning, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast, each representing the five-county region served by the SWFLCF which are Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades and Hendry counties.
FutureMakers chose the eight regional high schools to partner with in 2014 due to the low percentage of seniors in those schools filling out the FAFSA in recent years. The coalition took an active role in aiding these schools’ high-school seniors through one-on-one and group mentoring, FAFSA workshops, financial-aid application support and career coaching.
Initial outcomes for FutureMakers in its inaugural year are very encouraging, as most of the participating schools have increased their FAFSA completion rate to since last year. This is especially significant given that in the 2013-2014 school year, students are no longer required to complete the FAFSA application in order to qualify for the State of Florida’s Bright Futures scholarship program, which has led to decreased FAFSA completion rates at many other area high schools.
According to the FCAN, of the school districts with only one participating high school (Charlotte and Collier counties), the two schools (Port Charlotte High School and Golden Gate High School) have the most improved FAFSA completion rates in their respective districts.
All three participating Lee County high schools have the highest FAFSA completions rates in the school district. Of particular note is East Lee County High School, which had one of the lowest FAFSA completion rates in 2012-2013. As of April 25, 2014, East Lee had increased its annual FAFSA completion rate by 54 percent.
The final results of the FutureMakers measurements will be available in July.
Data released by the U.S. Department of Education show that just 37 percent of the working-age adult population in Florida has earned a two- or four-year degree. By 2018, 59 percent of all jobs in Florida will require a post-secondary education, and 1.6 million workers with post-secondary credentials will be needed to fill new and vacant jobs in Florida. College graduates earn twice what workers without degrees earn according to federal government figures.
Founded in 1976, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation supports the communities of Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Glades and Hendry counties and also acts as the regional convener and leader with firsthand knowledge of community needs. With assets of more than $75 million, the SWFLCF has provided more than $57 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. During its 2013 fiscal year, the SWFLCF granted more than $4 million to more than 100 different organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services.