CALIFORNIA Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley sounded an alarm for students to apply for financial aid ahead of the Cal Grant March 2 deadline to get the most aid possible.Applications are down significantly compared to last year, and with the effects of COVID-19 impacting students’ income, more students are facing financial barriers that could prohibit them from going to college.
Data from the California Student Aid Commission, who administers the Cal Grant and California Dream Act programs, reported that Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completions among graduating high school students are down by 11 percent (19,330) compared to this same time last year. California Dream Act Applications, which allow eligible undocumented students to apply for the same state-based financial aid opportunities available to others, are also down by 15 percent (2,712) year over year.
“For too many students, finances are the main barrier to achieving their college goals,” Oakley said. “While there are many types of financial aid available for California community college students, most financial aid is contingent on filing a FAFSA or California Dream Act Application. However, every year there is money left on the table because students simply don’t apply. That’s why it is important for every graduating senior to submit a financial aid application – even if they don’t think they will qualify or if they have not yet decided on their plans after high school.”
Each year there is $6 billion dollars in financial aid available to California college students.
Yet all too often current and prospective students are not aware of financial aid opportunities and they do not apply for aid, missing their chance to benefit. If these dollars earmarked for financial aid are not awarded they go unspent, meaning potentially millions of dollars are left unclaimed every year.
“Students must complete their FAFSA by the March 2 Cal Grant deadline to be eligible for state and federal aid, which maximizes the amount of money they can qualify to receive,” said California Student Aid Commission Executive Director Marlene Garcia, “The Cal Grant deadline is especially important for undocumented students who must complete the California Dream Act Application by March 2 in order to be eligible for state-based aid, which is critical because they are not eligible for federal aid.”
The Cal Grant offers free money for California students attending a community college, UC, CSU, or a fully online or independent, non-profit university, and can help students pay for college costs such as books, supplies, transportation and rent.
“Financial Aid is the sole reason I am able to afford college,” said Consumes River College student, Ky Mazyck-Holmes. “I use it to maintain my living arrangement, buy books and ultimately change my life for the better through education.”
The California Community Colleges encourage students and parents to attend one of the upcoming virtual Cash for College workshops led by financial aid professionals who provide resources and individualized support for filling out financial aid forms. For more information about the financial aid applications visiticanaffordcollege.com. To register for a free, virtual Cash for College workshop visit https://cash4college.csac.ca.gov.
“We understand that during COVID, graduating seniors and their families are facing many tough decisions,” Oakley said, “We hope that going to college isn’t one of them. Finances should never get in the way of someone pursuing their higher education. If we don’t get more students to complete the FAFSA, we could see a lost generation of tens of thousands of Californians who are left behind and cannot pursue their college education because of the lack of financial support.”
The California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the nation, composed of 73 districts and 116 colleges serving 2.1 million students per year.