Alex Paschal, Manager of Community Engagement for ImpactTulsa, is “motivated by the vision of ensuring all students are guaranteed a high-quality education and a pathway to thrive.” That’s why Paschal and the team at ImpactTulsa are helping more students finish high school prepared with the resources they need for postsecondary success.
ImpactTulsa is an education partnership focused on measuring academic outcomes from kindergarten to postsecondary education. They do this by partnering with more than 300 organizations and they impact more than 170,000 students in the Tulsa region.
America’s Promise spoke with Paschal to learn how ImpactTulsa is working alongside partners in the community to help more high school students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Read the full spotlight below to learn more about the partnerships and collective efforts taking place in Tulsa to support more students in their goal to reach postsecondary education.
How does your work help create a GradNation for all?
Our theory of action is to measure what matters, identify effective practices, and align resources. We use data to focus our partnership’s collaborative goals and align resources in more effective ways. ImpactTulsa works to pull “levers” that affect change within six outcome areas in an effort to improve student success along the continuum.
While ImpactTulsa works to improve outcomes from pre-K through postsecondary completion, one way we are laser focused on creating a GradNation in our community is by encouraging high school students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Tulsa Community College (TCC) and Tulsa Tech offer free tuition to public, private, and homeschool students. Yet students are not eligible without completing a FAFSA.
For the third year, ImpactTulsa has closely partnered with high school counselors and FAFSA experts from postsecondary institutions to provide support for students and families to complete the FAFSA. In addition to providing one-on-one attention, ImpactTulsa launched a Fueling the FAFSA, marketing campaign and website called FAFSATulsa.com which is a resource hub for financial aid information. By offering practical resources to high school administrators and raising public awareness, FAFSATulsa is seeking to increase the number of senior students completing the FAFSA and, as a result, increasing the number of high school graduates who matriculate into postsecondary institutions.
Research shows that there is a 30 percent increase in postsecondary enrollment if the FAFSA is completed by low to middle income students. With access to financial aid from the FAFSA, high school students have the incentive and means to graduate high school and college.
What successes in your community are you most proud of?
In the Tulsa metropolitan area, all newly created jobs by 2025 will require coursework beyond high school. Yet in Tulsa County, only 23 percent of adults 25 years and older have some coursework beyond high school, 8 percent hold associate’s degrees, 21 percent bachelor's, and 10 percent graduate degrees.
Lack of funding to support continued education is among the top barriers students identify for not attaining a postsecondary credential. Finding ways to increase access to financial aid, scholarships, and other forms of support is critical to increasing degree attainment.
Alongside school districts and postsecondary partners, ImpactTulsa, City of Tulsa, Tulsa Regional Chamber, and Youth Philanthropy Initiative joined forces to increase the number of students who complete the FAFSA. In its second year, the FAFSATulsa partnership increased FAFSA completion rates by 12 percent for the graduating class of 2017 compared to the prior school year. Nineteen out of 24 high schools increased their completion rates, resulting in potential access to nearly $22 million dollars in Pell federal grant funds in our region. We are capitalizing on this momentum to continue to grow the FAFSA completion rates for the current graduating class.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?
When ImpactTulsa was founded in 2014, we were told by others who had come before us that the work moves at the speed of trust. There is a fear that when using data, it will be used to show failures or create competition. The most challenging aspect of our work has been growing trusting relationships in which our partners believe we share the same positive intent of supporting our students.
Getting students and their parents to complete the form remains a challenge. One of ImpactTulsa’s goals is to raise awareness of the FAFSA in hopes that knowledge of the advantage of free financial aid will increase application rates.
As we approach graduation for our third class of seniors who have been influenced by the FAFSATulsa campaign, we are able to reflect on how successful our relationships with high school counselors and postsecondary financial aid officers has grown. In addition to sharing stronger relationships with each of them, they too have formed relationships with one another. They call on one another and offer support to students in a way that did not exist before.
What principles guide your work in education and youth development?
The ImpactTulsa team is motivated by the vision of ensuring all students are guaranteed a high-quality education and a pathway to thrive. In addition to quality education, we recognize that many factors influence school success, including social and emotional supports.
It all starts with using data to inform decision-making in our region so that all students have access to the education and community-based resources they need to succeed. As a community, we are moving away from the old way of using arbitrary data as a hammer, and instead finding new ways of working together by using relevant data as a flashlight that guides both resources and investments. No longer is education just the job of administrators and teachers. It’s a community responsibility and we are all accountable.
Challenges in education signal a need for our community to find new ways to work together to help students succeed. The ImpactTulsa partnership addresses that need. We are committed to ensuring the community’s collective efforts are aligned toward boosting student success. When our region agrees on common education outcomes, we no longer are a collection of good programs, but instead we become a community with a first-class education system.
Describe what makes your work unique in three words or phrases.
ImpactTulsa uses data as a flashlight, not a hammer. We bring partners together to measure what matters, identify effective practices, and align resources to improve student success.