FutureMakers, a regional call to action initiated by the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools, Inc., Southwest Florida Works, The Education Foundation of Collier County – Champions for Learning, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast, released results from its inaugural year this week in a profile featured in the Naples Daily News.

During its first year, based on research showing that the five county region’s students underutilized state and federal sources of financial aid, the collaborative focused on increasing the completion rates of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  By providing one-on-one and group mentoring, financial aid workshops and career coaching, the number of 12th graders completing FAFSAs in targeted schools rose.  According to the article, “During the 2013-2014 school year, 912 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 successfully completed the FAFSA.”

Based on Florida CAN’s “FAFSA Finish Line” data dashboard, results showed five of the eight schools improved their FAFSA completion rates, with East Lee High School recording the biggest increase at 11.1 percent.  With FAFSA completion declining in Florida during the past two years and changes to the state’s Bright Future’s scholarship program resulting in fewer students qualifying for merit-based state aid, leaders of the collaborative realize there still remains a lot of work to be done.

“We launched FutureMakers with optimism and realism, knowing a program of this magnitude requires baby steps before it can take off running,” said Sarah Owen, president and CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. “Less than one third of high-school seniors in our five-county area were filling out the FAFSA. 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 for students. Our goal was to help the class of 2014 take its next step toward the educational opportunities that are available to them before graduation.”

After experiencing encouraging results following their first year, the Southwest Florida coalition is setting the bar even higher after announcing a new partnership with the Lumina Foundation, which will provide additional technical assistance, data tools and flexible funding as plans to set regional goals move forward.  Susan McManus, president of Education Foundation of Collier County – Champions for Learning, expressed the group’s high expectations for the future.

“One day, we will collectively look back and know we’ve solved a big problem together,” said McManus. “Mostly our success will be told in the eyes and stories of students who are now on their way to college.”

To learn more about the FutureMakers coalition and the partners involved, read the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s Fall 2014 newsletter.

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