Recent News



Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Maximum award more than doubles for 2021-22 school year

Iowa college students who were in the foster care system could qualify for expanded financial aid, Iowa College Aid announced today.

The federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 increased funding for the Education and Training Voucher, which provides aid to students who aged out of foster care and students who were adopted after age 16. The maximum ETV award is usually $5,000 a year. In the coming year, however, that amount will be considerably higher:

  • Students who already qualified for ETV in the 2020-21 academic year could be eligible for an additional $2,500 for summer classes, even if they previously reached the $5,000 maximum.
  • Students who will attend college in 2021-22 could be eligible for up to $12,000 for the year.

“This is terrific news for former foster youth in Iowa,” said Dr. Mark Wiederspan, executive director of Iowa College Aid, which administers ETV in Iowa. “Last year more than 160 students qualified, and they received an average of over $3,500. With this boost in federal funding, we hope to increase both the number of students we serve and the amounts they receive.”

To qualify for ETV, a student must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the Iowa Financial Aid Application (IFAA). Students can use ETV funds to pay for tuition, fees, room, board, books, supplies, and personal or living expenses.

Find more information about ETV, along with links to the FAFSA and the Iowa Financial Aid Application, at




Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Federal budget expands SNAP and broadband benefits for those affected by pandemic 

Students in Iowa might be eligible for help paying for broadband access, computers, and food under the latest federal budget, Iowa College Aid and the Iowa Department of Human Services announced today.

In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 creates the Emergency Broadband Benefit program to help pay for internet service. Households can receive discounts up to $50 a month—$75 on tribal lands—on broadband access and discounts up to $100 on laptop computers, desktop computers, or tablets if they meet any of these conditions:

  • A student is eligible for free/reduced price lunch in 2019-20 or 2020-21.
  • A student is eligible for the federal Pell Grant in 2020-21.
  • Someone in the household has experienced a substantial loss of income during the pandemic, and the household income is below $99,000 for single filers or $198,000 for joint filers.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit is a program of the Federal Communications Commission. Eligible households will be able to enroll starting today (May 12) at

The Appropriations Act also temporarily expands SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance) benefits to include all college students who are eligible for work-study or who have an Expected Family Contribution of $0 in the 2020-21 academic year. SNAP is a federal program that provides money to buy fruit, vegetables, and other food. In Iowa, the program is administered by the Iowa Department of Human Services. The expanded eligibility is in effect until 30 days after the federal COVID-19 public health emergency is lifted. Find more information or apply at

Mark Wiederspan, the Executive Director of Iowa College Aid, called the Broadband Benefit a lifeline for students. “Our world has gone virtual in the past year, and students who couldn’t go virtual along with it lost their access to education,” he said. “Up-to-date devices and reliable Internet service have never been more important.”



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 data 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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Heather Doe
Iowa Department of Education
(515) 281-7967 

$50,000 each awarded to six community colleges in partnership with local school districts

DES MOINES — The Iowa Department of Education and Iowa College Aid today awarded six $50,000 competitive grants to help establish new college and career transition counselor positions that will focus on preparing more high school students for success in college, postsecondary career training and the workforce. 

Des Moines Area Community College, Hawkeye Community College, Iowa Lakes Community College, Iowa Valley Community College District, Kirkwood Community College and Western Iowa Tech Community College each won a start-up grant to support new college and career transition counselors who will work in partnership with area school districts and their students and families to support career exploration and transitioning to college and career training. The college and career counselors will work closely with high school juniors and seniors during the school year as well as the summer after high school graduation and their first year of college or career training.

“Expanding college and career transition counselor roles will help more students explore opportunities and take steps for continued success beyond high school,” said Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo. “I commend our community colleges and school district partners for their commitment to ensuring students identify their future goals and stay on a path to gain the education and skills needed for rewarding careers.”

The grants will support 13 new college and career transition counselors who will work with students in 22 school districts across the state—ADM, Ames, Ankeny, Boone, Cedar Rapids, Collins-Maxwell, East Marshall, Estherville Lincoln Central, Grinnell-Newburg, Interstate 35, Johnston, Knoxville, Okoboji, Ogden, PCM, Perry, Sioux City, Southeast Polk, Spencer, Van Meter, Waterloo and West Des Moines. 

Supported by the federal Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, commonly referred to as Perkins V, and additional financial support from Iowa College Aid, the three-year grants will help establish college and career transition counselors for academic years 2021-22 through 2023-24. To make these shared positions sustainable, ongoing funding will be provided by the colleges and districts.

“Our research shows that about 1 in 5 high school seniors who intend to start college don’t actually get there,” said Iowa College Aid Executive Director Mark Wiederspan. “These counseling positions will be crucial to helping more young Iowans follow through on their college plans.”

Iowa College Aid will provide training and professional development through its Iowa College and Career Readiness Academy. Iowa’s Area Education Agency Postsecondary Readiness and Equity Partnership (AEA PREP) will assist with ongoing training and program evaluation.

Expanding college and career transition counselors statewide aligns with the state’s Future Ready Iowa goal, which calls for 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce to have education or training beyond high school by 2025. 

This is the first year of awards. Applications for future three-year grant cycles will be open in 2022 and 2023.

More information is available on the Iowa Department of Education’s website.

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Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Program prepares underserved students for college and career success

Thirteen Iowa school districts have been selected as partners in applying for a GEAR UP grant to begin this fall, Iowa College Aid announced today. GEAR UP is a federal program to increase college and career access and readiness for low-income, minority, and first-generation students. If Iowa receives the grant, it will be the state’s third.

GEAR UP Iowa, administered by Iowa College Aid, supports students and families from seventh grade through the first year of college. The program helps schools provide services that include college and career exploration, academic support, “soft skill” development, and assistance with college and financial aid applications. GEAR UP Iowa also places coaches in schools and provides resources for school counselors and other staff. When GEAR UP Iowa students enroll in college, they receive a scholarship.

GEAR UP Iowa 1.0 received a $16.8 million matching grant to serve the high school class of 2014 in 17 districts. GEAR UP Iowa 2.0 received $22.4 million to serve the high school class of 2020 in 12 districts. GEAR UP Iowa 3.0, pending approval of the grant, is expected to serve the high school class of 2027 in the following districts that applied to be partners in Iowa College Aid’s proposal:

  • Cedar Rapids
  • Centerville
  • Clinton
  • Columbus Junction
  • Davenport
  • Davis County
  • Denison
  • Des Moines
  • Fort Dodge
  • Marshalltown
  • Saydel
  • South Tama
  • Storm Lake

These 13 districts encompass about 6,300 students who will be in seventh grade this fall. Centerville, Davis County, Saydel, and South Tama are new to GEAR UP Iowa; the others are returning from 2.0. For a district to take part, at least half its students must qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

“Our goal is to make college more accessible to underserved students, and we have data showing that GEAR UP works,” said Dr. Mark Wiederspan, Executive Director of Iowa College Aid. “Studies of our first two grants show that GEAR UP Iowa students are more likely to apply to college, apply for financial aid, and to go to college than their non-GEAR UP peers. They also have higher standardized test scores and higher high school attendance rates. We’re optimistic about receiving a third grant and excited to extend these benefits to a new group of Iowa students.”

Learn more about the federal program here. Learn more about GEAR UP Iowa here.




Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Iowa College Aid recommends mandatory FAFSA to help fight ‘summer melt’

Applying for financial aid greatly increases the likelihood that students will follow through on their college plans, according to a research brief from Iowa College Aid.

In Iowa, about 1 in 5 high school graduates who indicate that they plan to attend college do not actually enroll the following fall, a phenomenon known as “summer melt.” Iowa College Aid found that students who file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are less likely to melt by 36 percentage points.

“College enrollment among new high school graduates has been slipping in Iowa,” said Mark Wiederspan, Executive Director of Iowa College Aid. “To meet future workforce demands, we need to move the other direction. By identifying this factor that contributes to summer melt, we can help students who want to go to college achieve that goal.”

Iowa College Aid recommends that the state consider requiring high school students to file the FAFSA, which determines eligibility for all federal aid and most state and institutional aid. Three states—Louisiana, Texas, and Illinois—have put such a requirement in place in the past three years. While these FAFSA mandates are relatively new, early research has found that they significantly decrease the gap in filing rates between high-income and low-income school districts, connecting more of the neediest students with financial aid opportunities.

The agency also recommends that Iowa administer a survey about students’ post-high school plans earlier in their high school years. Iowa students currently take the survey near the end of senior year, long after they ideally would have applied for financial aid. An earlier survey would allow school counselors and other staff to identify college-intending students and help them with the FAFSA.

Iowa has already begun taking steps to increase FAFSA completion rates. For instance, Iowa College Aid’s Course to College program helps participating schools identify and assist students who plan to go to college. The Virtual College Coach, launched a year ago, helps students with steps they need to take, including the FAFSA. Completion rates in Iowa had been rising until the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This new research underscores the importance of the FAFSA,” Wiederspan said. “Taking further steps to ensure that Iowa students apply for financial aid will help them fulfill their college intentions.”

This research is the first to focus specifically on summer melt in Iowa. Read the full brief here.






Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Class of 2027 Will Receive College Access Support Beginning in 7th Grade

GEAR UP Iowa is looking for partner school districts for the next cycle of the program to increase college and career access and readiness. GEAR UP seeks districts that are committed to developing innovative supports tailored to students in their communities.

GEAR UP Iowa is a federal grant administered by Iowa College Aid with the primary goal of increasing the number of students in partner schools who graduate from high school prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. With a particular emphasis on low-income and underserved populations, GEAR UP addresses the root causes of college achievement gaps. GEAR UP Iowa has been a component of the state’s efforts to meet its Future Ready Iowa Goal that 70 percent of the workforce will have education or training beyond high school by 2025.

Students and families in GEAR UP Iowa school districts receive support services to prepare them academically, financially, and inspirationally to enroll and succeed in college, beginning in seventh grade and following them through their first year of college. These services include early college exploration such as campus visits, guidance on the value of postsecondary education, academic support such as tutoring and test prep, career exposure such as job site visits, college fairs, help with college and financial aid applications, and “soft skill” development such as attitudes and habits. When they enroll in college, GEAR UP Iowa students receive a scholarship. For districts, the program places GEAR UP coaches, helps align college and career readiness goals, and provides resources for school counselors and other staff. 

GEAR UP Iowa expects to start its next cycle in fall 2021, supporting seventh-graders who will graduate from high school in 2027. Previous cycles served the high school classes of 2014 and 2020, with encouraging results. During their four years in high school, the GEAR UP Iowa class of 2020 received nearly 219,000 hours of support services. They were 20 percentage points more likely to take the ACT than students in non-GEAR UP districts. Financial aid applications this year grew by 3 percentage points at GEAR UP Iowa schools, even as they fell at other Iowa schools and at schools nationwide. Almost 40 percent of 2020 GEAR UP Iowa graduates have already claimed their college scholarships.

For a district to take part in GEAR UP Iowa, at least half its students must qualify for free or reduced price lunch. To indicate interest and receive more information, a district representative should fill out the survey at by December 31. For more information about GEAR UP Iowa, visit or email



The grants will help power Iowa’s economic recovery by incentivizing creation and expansion of Registered Apprenticeship programs with emphasis on recruiting individuals affected by the pandemic

Governor Reynolds announced two new Registered Apprenticeship grant opportunities totaling $10 million funded by the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Registered Apprenticeships provide training in an “earn and learn” model that helps employers create the workforce they need. They are an employer-driven model, combining on-the-job learning with related classroom instruction, providing the Apprentice with a nationally recognized credential and employers with a skilled worker at the end of the program. 

The first grant opportunity is available to high schools, nonprofits, and small businesses with less than 50 employees.  These grants total $5 million, with a maximum award of $50,000 per applicant.  The second grant opportunity is available to post-secondary institutions or healthcare employers. These grants also total $5 million, with a maximum award of $250,000 per applicant. Both grants can be used to purchase equipment, tools, simulators, instructional materials, updated curriculum, or other necessary items to expand or create Registered Apprenticeship programs that provide for online learning as well as hands-on learning when necessary and safe. Priority is given to programs targeting individuals whose employment has been adversely affected by the pandemic.

Grant applications must be tied to an existing Registered Apprenticeship program or commit to starting a new program no later than December 31, 2020.  Applicants for both grant opportunities must also certify an intention to recruit from individuals who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, minority or underrepresented communities, veterans, and the disabled.   




Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Lawmakers praise program to promote college access for underserved students

GEAR UP Iowa is recognizing its students and college partners as part of national GEAR UP Week, September 21-25. GEAR UP is a federal grant aimed at increasing college access and success for students in low-income school districts. Iowa’s current GEAR UP students graduated from high school this past spring and have just begun their postsecondary education. They include more than 6,000 students from 12 school districts. GEAR UP began offering college awareness and preparation services when the students were in seventh grade and will continue to support them through the coming year with a scholarship of up to $1,200 a year, as well as college success coaching.

The national GEAR UP program was established in 1998, and Iowa received its first grant in 2008. The current grant is Iowa’s second and serves to move the state toward its Future Ready Iowa goal of 70 percent of the workforce having education beyond high school by 2025. GEAR UP has enjoyed longstanding, bipartisan support in both houses of Congress and among Iowa’s delegation.

Senator Charles Grassley praised both GEAR UP and Iowa College Aid, the state agency that administers the grant. “The GEAR UP program seeks to bridge the gap for many students and families who are looking to further their education after high school,” he said. “Education is one of the most important tools in our society, and I applaud the effort by Iowa College Aid to help low-income, minority, and first-generation Iowans looking to attend college.”

Representative Cindy Axne related her experience with GEAR UP students and her own children. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet with graduates whose success is in no small part thanks to the help and assistance they received at GEAR UP and Iowa College Aid,” she said. “As a mom who just sent my first child off to college, I know firsthand how confusing and stressful this process can be. GEAR UP Iowa is making sure parents, students, and families have the knowledge and assistance they need.”

While GEAR UP students graduated from high school in uncertain times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has been successful on multiple fronts:

  • 50 percent of GEAR UP Iowa students had completed a FAFSA as of July 2—a gain of 4 percent from a year earlier at those schools, even as the national FAFSA filing rate fell by 4 percent.
  • 88 percent of GEAR UP Iowa's 2020 high school graduates plan to complete a two-year, four-year, or higher college degree.
  • 69 percent of GEAR UP Iowa students took the ACT in 11th grade, exceeding the baseline at their schools by 21 percent.
  • GEAR UP Iowa students had higher attendance, greater gains in reading and math proficiency from seventh through 10th grade, and higher rates of college readiness in reading than their non-GEAR UP peers.

As part of its ongoing effort to help students make a successful transition from high school to college, GEAR UP Iowa has awarded grants to the following college partners:

  • Des Moines Area Community College
  • Drake University
  • Eastern Iowa Community College
  • Grand View University
  • Indian Hills Community College
  • Iowa State University
  • Simpson College
  • University of Iowa
  • University of Northern Iowa

GEAR UP Iowa students came from the following school districts:

  • Cedar Rapids
  • Clinton
  • Columbus Junction
  • Davenport
  • Denison
  • Des Moines
  • Fort Dodge
  • Marshalltown
  • Ottumwa
  • Perry
  • Sioux City
  • Storm Lake

Find more information about current services for GEAR UP Iowa students at