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Best Practices & Learnings: University Place School District

Members of the PSCCN team sat down with Erica Rollosson - College and Career Guidance Specialist, and Bethany Hartfield - College and Career Coordinator from the University Place School District (UPSD) to discuss the noticeable increase in this school year's financial aid completion rates as shown below: 

While much of the financial aid completion and academic success is due to factors and challenges outside the control of school staff, we wanted to hear their take on their district's improvement this year. We wanted to learn more about the work they have done in the past and what they are doing differently this academic year at Curtis High School.


Notably, Erica, who leads all financial aid efforts, is new this academic year. She individually works with all seniors at Curtis, which is the only high school in the district. Early in the academic year, over a three-day period, every senior creates an FSA ID during the school day. Some of the new things Curtis has done differently this year:  

  • Financial aid advising day: She addresses all seniors in the school theater to talk them through the timeline and why FAFSA should matter to them. 
  • College Success at College Fair: Providing on-site individualized FAFSA support during the high school's college fair.   
  • Attending WSAC's College Success Workshops  
  • Presenting to the Financial Literacy Class in October.  
  • Social media outreach  

Some things Erica and Bethany have continued include building in the FAFSA to students' High School and Beyond Plan on the XELLO platform, hosting workshops, and connecting students to other workshops in the area. Their regular strategies for outreach include their Curtis College and Career Center website, posters, school events, daily announcements, the principal message home, Google Classroom, teachers, Airtame (TV messages across campus) and Curtis High School Network (Video Production). Erica and Bethany collaborate often with administrative staff, and counselors in supporting students through the financial process.


Erica uses data for strategizing outreach and scheduling. 

  • She keeps a dashboard recording treads of what days and months families are applying. This allows her to schedule workshops when they will be most useful for families.  
  • Internal data allows her to reach out to groups of students that qualify for certain aid such as priority applications, College Bound, and Running Start.  

Quick Tips

Erica named that the biggest challenge is delivering information when people are receptive to hearing it. The information is delivered through many channels, but students and parents still give the feedback that they did not know when or how they should be doing the FAFSA. Here are two small strategies from PSCCN's perspective, rooted in observations about what's working at Curtis:  

  1. Schedule events alongside other well-attended school events to increase attendance to financial aid workshops. In March, for example, they held their workshop before and after Spring Parent Sports Night. Families already there for sports night were more likely to drop in while they were already at the school.  
  2. Find a way to reach parents that is embedded in an already established channel rather than creating a new one. Among all the methods parents are targeted (a parent flyer, website, social media, workshops), the method of outreach that tends to reach parents the most is a message from the principal. It is sent through Skyward and followed up with a phone call. 

In February 2023, the FAFSA completion in University Place was at 54.2% as compared with the same month in 2019 (51.5%), 2020 (46.0%), 2021 (43.6%), and 2022 (46.6%). While we hesitate to use any casual language, this kind of upswing in one year does not often happen on its own and it's not independently occurring in surrounding districts. We appreciate Erica and Bethany for opening up their space to share what is working for them.