Supporting students

in accessing higher education


College Matters, a $15 million grantmaking initiative of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, seeks to increase college enrollment rates for Marion County high school seniors, especially for students less likely to enroll in college, including students from low-income households, Black students, and Hispanic and Latino students.

High school students face a variety of challenges when considering college, including accessing coursework that prepares them for college, identifying possible career options, and obtaining financial aid. For students without access to relevant support and resources, these challenges can turn into barriers that keep them from applying to and enrolling in college – furthering existing racial and socioeconomic disparities in education and worsening talent shortages in the Indy region.

To help remove some of these barriers and increase college enrollment, College Matters is awarding grants to Marion County public high schools and community organizations in two phases, Meeting the Moment and Reversing the Trend. The grantees in both phases will use the funding to support Indianapolis students and their families as they navigate the process of exploring, enrolling in and financing college.

Of all 2021 Marion County high school graduates, only 48% enrolled in college, a 28% decrease in just 10 years. 1
Only 39% of 2021 high school graduates from low-income households in Marion County enrolled in college, compared to 55% of their higher-income peers. 1
45% / 38%
In 2021, Black high school graduates and Hispanic and Latino high school graduates in Marion County were less likely than others to enroll in college, with 45% of Black graduates and 38% of Hispanic and Latino graduates enrolling compared with 63% of their Asian peers and 52% of their white peers. 1
In 2023, only 39% of Marion County seniors completed the FAFSA. 2

1 Indiana College Readiness Dashboard2 FAFSA Completion Dashboard


More college graduates needed

Low college enrollment is a challenge to our economic vitality. Indianapolis employers continue to report difficulty finding talent with the education and skills needed to fill open positions. Fewer Marion County residents have college degrees than many of our peer cities, which puts us at a competitive disadvantage when trying to attract new businesses and better jobs.

For individuals, education beyond high school contributes to a higher annual income and improved financial stability. Further, increased educational attainment is associated with increased health, happiness, quality of life and civic engagement.


Grants to support FAFSA completion and college enrollment

Through College Matters: Meeting the Moment, the Foundation awarded nearly $5 million in short-term grants to Marion County public schools, community organizations, and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education in September 2023. These grants provide support to students in two areas: completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — now a requirement to graduate high school in Indiana — and exploring their college options.

Meeting the Moment: Grants to schools

To assist students and their families in meeting Indiana’s new FAFSA mandate during the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years, the Foundation awarded a total of $3.25 million in grants to 37 Marion County public high schools within 17 school corporations.*

School corporationGrant amount
Beech Grove City Schools$160,000
Christel House Indianapolis$160,000
Goodwill Foundation of Central & Southern Indiana$200,000
Herron Classical Schools$200,000
Indianapolis Public Schools$240,000
Irvington Community Schools$145,500
KIPP Indy Public Schools$150,000
MSD of Decatur Township$200,000
MSD of Lawrence Township$240,000
MSD of Pike Township$200,000
MSD of Warren Township$240,000
MSD of Washington Township$177,750
MSD of Wayne Township$240,000
Perry Township Schools$240,000
Phalen Leadership Academies$150,000
Purdue Polytechnic High School$160,000
Victory College Prep$150,000
* The amount of grant funding was awarded based on a school’s organization type and total enrollment of high school seniors.

Meeting the Moment: Grants to community organizations

To reach students and their families in places other than schools, four Marion County community organizations received grants totaling $1.35 million over three years to support students in exploring, enrolling in and financing college.

Community-based organizationGrant amount
Center for Leadership Development$300,000
Indiana Black Expo$300,000
Indiana Latino Institute$450,000
Indianapolis Urban League$300,000

Meeting the Moment: Grant to Indiana Commission for Higher Education

To fund convenings and facilitate the exchange of information between grantees and the State of Indiana, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education received a three-year, $363,000 grant.


Grants to implement proven college enrollment strategies

Through College Matters: Reversing the Trend, the Foundation will provide up to $9.7 million in competitive funding to Marion County public high schools for the implementation of strategies aimed at increasing college enrollment.

There are two steps in the application process. First, any eligible Marion County public high school is invited to apply for one of up to six $20,000 competitive short-term planning grants, which will provide them with resources to create a four-year plan for increasing college enrollment among their students. Second, the schools that received planning grants will be invited to submit proposals for competitive grants of up to $1.5 million each to support the implementation of their plan over a four-year period.

Only schools that received planning grants in the first step of the process are eligible to submit proposals for four-year implementation grants.

Application materials for College Matters: Reversing the Trend

More information about this phase of College Matters can be found in the Request for Applications and Frequently Asked Questions documents linked below, including:

  • School eligibility.
  • Strategies and tactics shown to increase college enrollment.
  • Examples of metrics grantees will be expected to track.
  • Questions that must be answered as part of the grant application.
  • Application evaluation criteria.
  • Permissible uses of grant funds.
  • Details on informational webinars.

Request for Applications

Budget Template

Frequently Asked Questions


Activity Date 
Informational webinars Jan. 10, 2024 and Jan. 12, 2024
Planning grant applications due Noon EST on Feb. 1, 2024
Planning grantee notification March 25, 2024
Planning grant period March 25, 2024 – July 31, 2024
Implementation grant proposals due July 31, 2024
Implementation grantee notification Sept. 3, 2024
Implementation grant period Sept. 3, 2024 – June 30, 2028


Below, you’ll find a variety of items used to inform the creation of the College Matters initiative, including data sources and relevant research. For more information on College Matters, contact Foundation staff at

This appendix to the College Matters: Reversing the Trend Request for Applications contains summaries of evidence-based interventions that fall under three strategies to increase college enrollment: 1) strengthen college and career counseling; 2) increase families’ financial awareness and help students apply for financial aid; and 3) bolster students’ academic preparation for college.


This journal article highlights the impact of Louisiana’s state policy to mandate the completion of the FAFSA as a requirement to graduate high school. The study demonstrates Louisiana’s FAFSA completion mandate led to a 19 percentage-point increase in FAFSA completion, associated with a 1-2 percentage-point increase in college enrollment.


The College Readiness Dashboard provides interactive data to supplement the annual College Readiness Reports; data is available for the state overall as well as by county, school district and school. The Dashboard includes data for high school graduates from the classes of 2012 through 2021.


This report highlights the demographics of high school graduates in 2019, their level of academic preparation, college-going rates, metrics of success in early college (2018 graduates) and graduation rates (2020 graduates).


This annual report provides information on how many students complete their degree or certificate at Indiana public colleges and universities. In addition to statewide trends, data is provided by campus and by student characteristics.


The College Completion Dashboard provides interactive data to supplement the annual College Completion Reports; data is available for the state overall as well as by county, school district and school. The Dashboard includes data for students who entered college beginning in fall 2006.


This report provides information on the returns a college degree yields after graduation, which extend beyond financial benefits. According to the report, Hoosiers with a college degree have greater job security, enhanced social mobility, increased civic involvement, improved health and wellness and higher quality of life.


The College Value Report Dashboard provides interactive data to supplement the College Value Reports; data is available for all state institutions overall as well as by individual public institution, degree level and program area. The Dashboard includes data for students who graduated college beginning with 2008 and ending with the class of 2017.


This report provides an analysis of the total cost of college at all Indiana public institutions and analyzes the average debt load for college graduates, as well as the impact state and federal financial aid has on reducing the cost for Hoosier students and families. Information is provided overall and by campus.


The Fairbanks Foundation’s free data resource, referred to as the Community Data Snapshot (CDS), includes Marion County- and state-level information on a variety of measures in the Foundation’s focus areas of Education, Health and the Vitality of Indianapolis. Included in the Education section of the Community Data Snapshot are multiple sets of data relevant to College Matters, including high school graduation, college-going and college persistence rates as well as SAT performance and high school diploma type. Many of these measures are also available on the CDS at the school district and school levels.


The Indiana Graduates Prepared to Succeed Dashboard, created by the Indiana Department of Education, features school and district-level data for Hoosier students in grades PK-12. Created after the Indiana General Assembly enacted a requirement to launch a school performance dashboard, information in the GPS specifically relevant to College Matters includes FAFSA completion and employment/enrollment (the percentage of students who are employed within Indiana or who are enrolled at an Indiana public postsecondary institution one year after their expected graduation year).