Source: EdSource

Beyond all the debate about the types and sizes of financial aid for college, one fact matters most for students and parents: You can’t get grants and loans unless you apply for them.

That’s why the Val Verde Unified School District in Riverside County became a pioneer in California two years ago in getting more families to complete the application that helps gain access to state, federal and campus aid.

That school district became the first in California to make completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form a requirement for high school graduation. “This is an opportunity for our kids to get a jump start,” said Michael R. McCormick, the Val Verde district Superintendent. (Parents who refuse to participate can opt out by signing a form.)

“Students who know they have access to financial aid are much more likely to see themselves as being able to go to college,” said Elisha Smith Arrillaga, executive director of the Education Trust-West, an advocacy group based in Oakland which supports a statewide FAFSA filing requirement. And since low-income students complete college admissions and aid applications at rates below more affluent ones, a FAFSA requirement with an opt out “will ensure all student have more equitable access,“ she added.

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