Recent News


Tressa Schultz

Iowa College Aid announces almost $550,000 in awards

Eleven Iowa communities will receive grants to increase college attainment, Iowa College Aid announced today. The Local College Access Networks, or LCANs, will receive a total of $545,375 for 2021-22. Two are new networks, while the rest are returning grantees.

The two new networks are Brother to Brother in Des Moines and Perry LCAN. Brother to Brother will focus on college attainment for young Black men in Des Moines and Central Iowa. Perry LCAN will focus on college attainment and workforce readiness in the Perry community, especially for lower-income and minority students. 

The goal of an LCAN is to increase college access, enrollment, and completion using a framework known as “Collective Impact,” which means that each LCAN assesses the assets and needs of its community and works to fill the gaps in partnership with local colleges, school districts, area education agencies, business groups, elected officials, employers, and community and religious organizations. Iowa College Aid provides funds for an LCAN coordinator, travel, training, and other costs. Iowa College Aid staff provide technical assistance, consultation, and professional development. The LCAN grant series is a four-year model.

These LCANs received awards this cycle:

  • Year I
    • Brother to Brother (Des Moines): $49,650
    • Perry LCAN: $49,940
  • Year II
    • Quad Cities LCAN: $50,000 
  • Year III
    • Black Hawk County CAN: $50,000
    • Carroll Area CAN: $48,396
    • Latinos CAN (statewide): $59,825
    • OPT-in CAN for System Involved Youth (statewide): $49,096
    • Story County CAN: $50,915
  • Year IV
    • Aligned Impact Muscatine (AIM): $50,00
    • Dubuque CAN: $50,668
    • Mason City CAN: $36,885

“We are grateful for the funding and support from Iowa College Aid,” said Dr. Lee Chhen Stewart, Story County CAN coordinator. “We have been able to provide career speakers for sixth-graders, train 30 community members to help with financial aid applications, collaborate with high school students to create a website of college resources, and train 26 adult learners—15 of whom now have more secure, higher-paying jobs.”

Dr. Mark Wiederspan, executive director of Iowa College Aid, said the mission of LCANs has never been more important. “During the pandemic, we’ve seen dips in college enrollment and college financial aid applications,” he said. “These networks are working to recoup those losses. Many of them—including the two newest—are setting specific goals around completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. High school students who file this application are much more likely to follow through on their college plans.”

LCANs support the Future Ready Iowa goal that 70 percent of Iowans have some education or training beyond high school by 2025. Since 2015, Iowa College Aid has awarded a total of $2,760,844 to 19 networks.

Find more information at



Tressa Schultz

Winners of Branstad State Fair scholarship named

Three college-bound Iowans will receive the Governor Terry E. Branstad Iowa State Fair Scholarship for 2021-22, Iowa College Aid announced today. The scholarship, named for the longtime Iowa governor and former U.S. ambassador to China, recognizes outstanding Iowa high school seniors who have actively participated in the fair. This year’s winners will each receive $2,000. They are:

  • Ruby Hummel, a graduate of Panorama High School, plans to study music education at Drake University. Ruby exhibited photos and sculpture at the fair and regularly took part in 4-H Share the Fun, performing in group skits and playing piano solos. She also won the opportunity to perform in the Bruce L. Rastetter 4-H Building on multiple occasions. “The Iowa State Fair was a big deciding factor in my future education and career path,” she says. “These performances, and having the opportunity to perform in front of a large crowd, made me realize how much I love performing and how much I enjoy music. Music became something I wanted to pursue and give to others in my life well into the future.”
  • Gavin Tindle, a graduate of Montezuma High School, plans to major in agricultural business and minor in animal science at Iowa State University. Gavin has camped at the fair every year of this life—a tradition that goes back to his great-grandparents. His fair participation evolved over the years from Mutton Bustin’ and the Pedal Tractor Pull to winning awards for photographs, antiques, flowers, brownies, rabbits, and goats. “My love of agriculture grew from the fond memories of being at the Iowa State Fair and seeing how ag impacts the lives of everyone—not just one person, but the world,” he says. “I feel honored that I have basically grown up being an Iowa State Fair kid.”
  • Sierra Wegener, a graduate of Northeast Middle-High School in Goose Lake, plans to study animal science and agricultural business at Iowa State University. Sierra grew up helping her parents show livestock at the fair and eagerly awaited her turn, eventually winning three Supreme Champion awards for her sheep. Sierra says the fair has not only taught her about agriculture but also given her the opportunity to teach. “Educating people about the agriculture industry is one of my favorite things because people may not know where their food comes from, or how almost everything that we have can be traced back to agriculture in some way,” she says. “If I can be an advocate for the industry that I love and people can see my passion for it, maybe I can make an impact on them and they could teach others as well.”

A common thread in all three winners’ application essays was the fair’s impact on their career paths. “These stories underscore the value of the Iowa State Fair for education, not just entertainment,” said Dr. Mark Wiederspan, Executive Director of Iowa College Aid. “This kind of career exploration is an important component of preparing young Iowans for lifetime success.”

The winners will be honored at the fair on Saturday, August 14, on the Bill Riley Stage, just before the crowning of the Iowa State Fair Queen.

Iowa College Aid will also host an information booth in the Varied Industries Building, at the center of the south wall. Visitors can take selfies with Cash the College Aid Dog, receive free mood pencils, download a free mobile app for college planning, sign up for free virtual college coaching, and order free college planning guides. 



Tressa Schultz

Fewer Iowans, Americans have been applying for college financial aid

Iowa College Aid today announced new initiatives to increase FAFSA filing in light of falling rates—both statewide and nationwide—during the pandemic. The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is required for all federal and state financial aid and most forms of aid from colleges and universities.

“In addition to being the door to financial aid, the FAFSA is tied to higher college-going rates,” said Dr. Mark Wiederspan, Executive Director of Iowa College Aid. “Students who say they plan to go to college are much more likely to follow through if they file this application. So focusing on the FAFSA actually helps us achieve Iowa’s goal that 70 percent of the workforce will have education beyond high school.”

In partnership with the Iowa College Access Network, Iowa College Aid hired 10 FAFSA associates to help students file the FAFSA this summer. The agency also made FAFSA completion goals a requirement for its 2021-22 round of funding for Local College Access Networks. Finally, Iowa College Aid held a series of workshops with school counselors and higher education stakeholders this spring to develop FAFSA strategies.

Also today, Iowa College Aid released a report showing that fewer Iowans filed the FAFSA during the pandemic. As of May 31, 49 percent of Iowa public high school seniors in the class of 2021 had filed. That rate represents a drop of 2 percentage points from a year ago and continues a four-year downward trend.

“It’s worth noting that this filing cycle was the first to take place entirely during the pandemic,” Wiederspan said. “Last year, we were on track to post some gains until COVID-19 hit. Then we saw a drop that continued into this cycle. And Iowa’s numbers track with what we see happening all over the country.”

When separated by race and gender, Asian males and females were the only two student groups in Iowa whose FAFSA filing rates rose this cycle. The largest drops were among Hispanic and Black males, who already had the lowest rates. “Our efforts will focus on increasing FAFSA filing overall as well as closing these equity gaps,” Wiederspan said.

Read the full “FAFSA Filing in Iowa: 2021” report here




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



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.