[Newark and Camden, NJ – January 23, 2024] Newark Mayor Ras Baraka in partnership with the NJ Children’s Foundation (NJCF) and Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen with the Camden Education Fund (CEF) kicked off the 2024 “FAFSA Challenge,” a friendly competition between their two cities to empower local students and fuel higher education aspirations. 

The goal of the challenge is to increase Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion rates and open doors to postsecondary success. Newark and Camden high schools will compete for the highest completion rate by city. In total, $70,000 will be awarded to high schools in both cities with NJCF and CEF each contributing $30,000 apiece in prize money for the schools with the highest completion rates in their respective cities. In addition, the organization in the losing city will pay an extra $10,000 to the winning city’s organization to be distributed to participating schools.

In Newark, there will be four competing groups based on the type of schools – comprehensive, charter, selective admission, specialized/county. The school with the highest completion rate in each group will win $5,000 for their senior class and the school with the highest overall completion rate will win an additional $10,000 (for a total of $15,000). When Newark wins, the additional $10,000 will be distributed among the four group winners.  

“Completing the FAFSA can open up opportunities for kids who don’t think they can afford college,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. “That’s why I’m joining my good friend, Camden Mayor Carstarphen, to challenge our students and their families to take this critical step to a better future. I know Newark is going to take the prize.”  

“As leaders, we recognize the transformative power of education. The FAFSA Challenge is a rallying cry for our youth, unlocking the doors to a world of possibilities through accessible financial aid and academic support,” said Mayor Carstarphen.

“We are fortunate to have a multitude of talented students, each deserving of the opportunity to pursue higher education without financial constraints,” expressed Roger Leόn, Superintendent of Newark’s schools. “I anticipate that the spirit of healthy competition  through the FAFSA Challenge with Camden inspires our students and families.”

“Initiatives like the FAFSA Challenge can help to ensure that all students have the resources, knowledge, understanding and supports they need to successfully access funds for higher education, which we know hinges on the effective and timely completion of the FAFSA,” said Robyn Brady Ince, the executive director of the Newark City of Learning Collaborative (NCLC) and a Rutgers assistant professor of professional practice, Department of Urban Education. 

The FAFSA completion rate for Newark was 66% as of September 15, 2023, according to data compiled by the NCLC and the Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies at Rutgers University-Newark. That completion rate – which includes district, charter, magnet, specialized and county high schools—exceeds the national (58.5%) and state (64.4%) averages. Newark’s 2023 66% completion rate is up from 56% in 2021 and 63% in 2022.

“Despite the commendable increase in the past three years, there’s still the opportunity to access the millions of dollars in funding that over one third of Newark students are leaving on the table,” said Barbara Martinez, executive director of the New Jersey Children’s Foundation.  “The FAFSA Challenge is a fun way for us to drive home a very serious message: every child in Newark deserves access to the financial means to get the education they need to succeed in life. NJCF truly appreciates the commitment of Mayor Baraka and the Newark community to this important campaign.” 

“We must address the racial disparities our young people of color face in access to and through college. Efforts like this FAFSA challenge are a critical part of our collective strategy to support young people as they transcend circumstances for themselves, their families, and ultimately our community,” said Mark Comesañas, executive director of My Brother’s Keeper Newark.

The 2024-25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) officially opened on Sunday, December 31, 2023, for students who plan to attend college. Seniors who complete the FAFSA are more likely to enroll in higher education, persist in their college coursework, and successfully obtain a degree.

Schools can track their progress throughout the competition on the FAFSA Tracker website which will start updating once data is available from the U.S. Department of Education.

About the NJ Children’s Foundation

The New Jersey Children’s Foundation is a non-profit organization aimed at promoting a fact-based discussion about public education in New Jersey.  Our mission is to invest in people, programs, and partnerships that will improve public education systems by putting the interests of children first.  Our vision is that every child will break down the walls of inequity through the creation of high-quality public education systems.  Our theory of change is that when communities are armed with accurate information about public education and given the tools to act, cities will demand great schools for every student.\

About The Camden Education Fund

The Camden Education Fund (CEF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating progress in Camden’s public school system. CEF works with families, school partners, and community leaders to identify citywide needs in education. CEF then provides grants and develops strategic partnerships to address these citywide needs. Grantees include schools, non-profits, and universities. Learn more at https://camdenedfund.org/.


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