Newark, Camden launch contest to encourage high school seniors to apply for federal financial aid

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen are hoping a little friendly competition between their two cities will pay off for graduating high school seniors this year.

The two mayors held dueling news conferences Tuesday to announce the kickoff of the first-ever “FAFSA Challenge.”

The contest is designed to get high school seniors to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA — as anyone with a high school senior knows it’s called. The FAFSA can unlock financial aid for college.

The FAFSA application is also used to determine financial aid for accredited trade schools.

The FAFSA challenge was launched last year by the Camden Education Fund, which wanted to expand it to Newark this year. Carstarphen reached out to Baraka, who eagerly accepted the challenge.

Carstarphen explained the process.

“As leaders, we recognize the transformative power of education,” he said. “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.”

Baraka agreed.

“Completing the FAFSA can open up opportunities for kids who don’t think they can afford college,” he said. “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.”

Barbara Martinez, executive director of the New Jersey Children’s Foundation, said the FAFSA Challenge is a fun way to drive home a very serious message.

“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,” Martinez said.  “Every child in Newark deserves access to the financial means to get the education they need to succeed in life.”

Both the Camden Education Fund and New Jersey Children’s Foundation are putting up the prize money for the contest. Camden and Newark high schools will compete for the highest completion rate by city.

In total, $70,000 will be awarded, with each sponsoring organization allocating $30,000 apiece to 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.

“Education is the cornerstone of our nation’s future,” Giana Campbell, executive director of the Camden Education Fund, said. “The FAFSA Challenge underscores our commitment to providing every student in Camden the opportunity to pursue higher education and build a brighter tomorrow.”