A Guilford County education organization has won a national contest. Say Yes Guilford will receive $75,000 for raising federal student aid application rates.

The contest is known as the FAFSA Completion Challenge. It was created after federal policy changes bumped up the application window, which starts October 1. Say Yes Guilford beat out more than 20 other big city school districts for the top prize.

Organizers say the county had the highest completion rate for students who filled out the free student aid form. They've had about a 14 percent increase since 2015. The rate for the Class of 2017 was about 66 percent.

Warché Downing with Say Yes Guilford says the results are part of a collaborative effort with community.

“For Say Yes, this was particularly very important because the FAFSA is a requirement for the student to be eligible for the Say Yes to Education Guilford scholarship,” says Downing. “And so, this is going to have a significant educational impact but also [it's] increasing the college-going culture in the communities that we serve.”

Downing says research shows that 90 percent of seniors who complete FAFSA are more likely to attend college directly from high school.

Say Yes provides scholarships for graduating seniors and other support services for students.

In March, the organization announced changes in the criteria for its scholarship program in order to sustain it long-term. Those included new income-based eligibility and requirements for how long students are enrolled in the school system.

Despite the challenges, Say Yes Guilford says the first year of the program was a big success. More than 2,400 graduates from Guilford County Schools received scholarships in the program's first year.

The numbers for the 2017 class haven't been finalized.

*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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