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Iowa Receives National Grant to Reverse COVID’s Effect on Postsecondary Enrollment

April 22, 2021

Iowa is one of only 11 states to be awarded a grant to ensure the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t stop the high school classes of 2020 and 2021 from enrolling in education and training opportunities after high school.

The national grant, resulting from a competitive process by the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) and with funding provided by the Kresge Foundation’s Education Program, was awarded to ICAN, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving college and career readiness for all Iowans.


COVID-19 has caused many disruptions to the planning process among Iowa students and their families, leading to a large decline in financial aid applications and pointing to lower college enrollments. The Iowa Initiative will amplify the current FAFSA Ready Iowa program and specifically target members of the Class of 2021 and 2020 who are college-bound but have yet to apply for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA.)

“It has been a difficult year with many students delaying decisions and putting off steps in the process that will help them succeed after high school,” stated Rob Miller, President of ICAN. “In a normal year, 78 percent of Iowa high school seniors go on to college and 60 percent of those seniors file a FAFSA form. Currently only 45 percent of high school seniors have filed the FAFSA this year which is concerning.”

The FAFSA form has long been a key indicator of post-high school success. Data indicates that students filing the FAFSA are more likely to immediately enroll in an education or training program following high school. It is this connection between FAFSA completion and college attainment that ICAN will focus on in the coming months through this grant program.

“Iowa traditionally has a strong FAFSA completion initiative that in normal years allows for community- and school-based events to take place across Iowa, providing face-to-face assistance to families.” explained Miller. “The pandemic made many of these events impossible to hold. Coupled with delays in planning by students, the Class of 2021 is just behind. We plan to change that through this grant program.”

Research indicates that students who delay enrollment in a postsecondary education or training program after high school are 64 percent less likely than their “on-time” peers to complete a bachelor’s degree and 18 percent less likely to complete any credential.

ICAN, in partnership with state and community organizations, as well as 49 high schools across Iowa, will use targeted strategies and statewide virtual and in-person events to reach members of the Class of 2021 who still need to file the FAFSA and provide assistance. The goal through this program is to return Iowa to pre-pandemic completion levels of 60 percent or more.

“Iowa College Aid is eager to support these efforts to increase FAFSA completion in Iowa,” said Dr. Mark Wiederspan, Executive Director of Iowa College Aid. “We know from our research that filing the FAFSA increases the likelihood that a student will go to college. We’re ready to provide resources for students and families, for schools, and for communities to make sure Iowans know how to take this important step.”

Utilizing FAFSA completion date supplied by Iowa College Aid, ICAN and its partnering high schools will work to target members of the Class of 2021 that are still determining their path after high school graduation.

“We had 26 high schools across Iowa volunteer to participate in the grant program, along with five community-based Local College Access Networks that represent an additional 23 high schools.” stated Miller. “Each community has strategic benchmarks to increase their FAFSA completion rates and help their college-bound students complete the final steps before high school graduation.”

The grant will also assist special populations and members of the Class of 2020 who may have delayed planning for a year due to the pandemic. Special summer and statewide events will be geared to assist any students still in need of assistance following Class of 2021 graduation.

The grant program runs through August 31. ICAN is partnering with Iowa College Aid, the Iowa School Counselor Association (ISCA), the Iowa Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (IASFAA),  Carroll Regional College Access Network, Mason City College Access Network, Black Hawk County Local College Access Network, Dubuque College Access Network, Aligned Impact Muscatine County (AIM), as well as Bettendorf, Boone, Carlisle, Cedar Falls, Centerville, Davenport Central, Davenport North, Davenport Mid-City, Des Moines East, Fremont Mills, Johnston, Lewis Central, Linn-Mar, Lisbon, Logan Magnolia, Marshalltown, Mason City, Midland, Mid-Prairie, Mount Pleasant, Oskaloosa, Southeast Polk, South Hardin, Urbandale, West Branch, and West Monona High Schools.

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About ICAN

ICAN is a nonprofit, educational organization. ICAN is the College Access Network for Iowa, and a member of the National College Access Network (NCAN). ICAN has ten locations in Ankeny, Cedar Rapids, Coralville, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Orange City, Sioux City and Waterloo, which provide programming and advising support to students and their families as they plan for education and training after high school. All ICAN programs and services are provided without charge. For more information about ICAN, call (877) 272-4692 or visit www.ICANsucceed.org.

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