Ed Trust–West Analysis Finds Only Half of California Students Applying for Financial Aid; Potentially Hundreds of Millions of Dollars in Financial Aid Untapped


As California’s March 2 financial aid deadline approaches, Ed Trust–West calls for renewed effort to ensure that all high school seniors complete FAFSA and Cal Grant applications

OAKLAND, CA (February 28, 2013) – An analysis of newly available FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and Cal Grant application data by The Education Trust–West finds that low-income California students may be missing out on potentially hundreds of millions of student aid dollars.

The Education Trust–West calculated FAFSA completion rates and Cal Grant completion and award rates both statewide and for individual California high schools. The findings are presented in the newly released report, The Cost of Opportunity: Access to College Financial Aid in California and related website, financialaid.edtrustwest.org. The data reveal that only 54 percent of high school seniors in California’’s public high schools completed the FAFSA in the 2012-13 financial aid year. Only 50 percent of seniors completed the Cal Grant application.  

The FAFSA is the application needed to be considered for financial aid such as grants, work-study jobs, and student loans. California’’s Cal Grant program is the largest state-funded financial aid program in the U.S. It provides guaranteed awards to high school graduates with at least a 2.0 GPA, who apply by the March 2 deadline, and who meet other eligibility requirements, including financial need.

“Too many California students never get the opportunity to attend college because their families believe they can’t afford the tuition,” said Orville Jackson, author of the report and Senior Research Analyst at the Education Trust–West, a statewide education policy, research, and advocacy organization. “Our analysis suggests that thousands of academically qualified, low-income students are losing out on their college dreams because they weren’t given the information and encouragement they needed to fill out a financial aid application.”

The analysis also uncovers California high schools with high rates of FAFSA and Cal Grant completion. This diverse set of schools scattered across the state includes large comprehensive high schools, academies, magnet schools, small schools, and charters. For example, at Mira Mesa High School in San Diego Unified and Segerstrom High School in Santa Ana Unified over 70 percent of seniors completed FAFSA and Cal Grant applications. At Fairfax Senior High School in Los Angeles Unified, Edison High in Fresno Unified, and Oakland School of the Arts in Oakland Unified, approximately three quarters of seniors completed the FAFSA and Cal Grant application. According to the report, schools with high application rates are proactive in their efforts to reach out to both students and parents to inform them about the importance of FAFSA and Cal Grant application completion.

The report also presents the 100 schools with the highest FAFSA completion rates and an accompanying web tool (financialaid.edtrustwest.org) shares FAFSA and Cal Grant application rates for every traditional, public high school in California.

“When high schools prioritize and support the financial aid process, more students apply,” said Julia I. Lopez, President & CEO of the College Access Foundation of California. “As a state, we should learn from and disseminate the best practices of those high schools where applying for financial aid is the norm.”

The report concludes by recommending ways in which policymakers and educators can increase FAFSA and Cal Grant completion rates and accelerate access to college. These include broadening communication to districts, schools, students and communities about the availability of financial aid and importance of applying for it; encouraging schools to submit Cal Grant GPA and graduation verifications for their students in bulk; providing individualized student-level data  on FAFSA and Cal Grant completion to schools and districts; and increased public transparency on aid application rates. 

“In the coming years, California will need millions more college graduates and certificate holders just to meet the needs of our economy,” said Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of Education Trust–West. “As Californians, we must ensure that all of academically and financially qualified students access the financial aid they need to attend college and transform their lives.”

Access our California Financial Aid Tracker at financialaid.edtrustwest.org to see how well California high schools and districts are doing in getting students to complete applications for college financial aid.


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About The Education Trust—West
The Education Trust—West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-k through college. We expose opportunity and achievement gaps that separate students of color and low-income students from other youth, and we identify and advocate for the strategies that will forever close those gaps.

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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.