In March 2021, the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) announced that Port Huron High School was one of the top 10 schools in the state of Michigan to improve its FAFSA Completion rate. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
The FAFSA form is a critical component for students to complete in order to make them eligible for receiving any financial aid from the federal government to help pay for college. According to FAFSA, “Each year, over 13 million students who file the FAFSA get more than $120 billion in grants, work-study and low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Education.”
This increase for Port Huron Schools, specifically Port Huron High, represents a significant improvement in supporting a college-focused culture for students. According to MCAN’s website, “At MCAN, we have one main goal: Increasing the percentage of Michigan residents with degrees or postsecondary certificates to 60% by the year 2030. By supporting increased access to postsecondary opportunities for low-income students, students of color and first-generation college-going students, we address systemic inequities head-on. This way, we can empower students and communities in Michigan for generations to come.”
Port Huron Schools, its district endowment fund and the Community Foundation of St. Clair County have supported these efforts by funding college advisors in both high schools in the district.
“Of course, the designation that we received is for having one of the 10 highest improvements in FAFSA completion percentage in the roughly 700 participating schools in the state of Michigan,” said Brandon Wardlow, the AdviseMI college advisor for Port Huron High. “We are currently at a forty percent increase in overall completion percentage from this time last year!
“My focus has really been on talking to the students and staying consistent with following up with them,” Warlow added. “Many students have no idea about the programs and financial aid that is available to them for education after high school. I make sure they understand that my goal is to help them establish a plan for after graduation no matter what and that college, trade schools, the military, etc. are all great options and the one that is best for them is all dependent on their goals. I think by being real with them, they’ve been less reluctant to work with me. They know that I’m here for the sole purpose of helping them.”
Port Huron High School’s FAFSA completion performance is even more impressive because overall national enrollment is down to 43.6% versus 51.8% at this time last year according to MCAN. MCAN also noted the challenges of COVID-19’s impact by stating, “Michigan high schools are working hard to keep students on the path to college, despite extraordinary circumstances caused by the pandemic.”
The Community Foundation also granted to the Athletic Factory for FAFSA/TIP workshops and to SONS for two student community liaisons, who did peer outreach at the schools.
Port Huron High School principal Mike Palmer acknowledged that key supporters in this initiative and its success were College Advisor Brandon Wardlow, Athletic Factory and SONS, as well as SCCORE and NAACP, which helped get students to participate at FAFSA events.
“We are so proud of our students and the great results we had this year with their FAFSA completion,” Palmer said. “Thanks to our college advisor, the funding from the Community Foundation, and the support of the Athletic Factory and SONS, this is a great achievement for our school. It sets up our students for success with funding opportunities before they even begin college.”
The Port Huron Schools Endowment Fund gives classroom, teacher and student project grants each year. The fund, created in 2010, is managed by the Community Foundation of St. Clair County. For the past 9 years both Port Huron High and Port Huron Northern have received $5,000 grants in order to support a dedicated MCAN College Advisor at each school.
Click here to support the PHS Endowment Fund and its projects, such as college access.