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California students leave hundreds of millions in aid untapped

Only about half of California’s high school seniors applied for federal and state financial aid last year -- leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table, according to a report by Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based nonprofit advocacy group.

The report, released Thursday, found that low-income students who qualified for college aid essentially left millions in financial aid untapped simply by not completing the federal and state applications.

About 54% of seniors in the state completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, in the 2012-13 financial aid year. About half of those students applied for a Cal Grant, the state-funded, need-based financial aid program that provides guaranteed awards to graduates with at least a grade point average of at least 2.0.

“Too many California students never get the opportunity to attend college because their families believe they can’t afford the tuition,” said Orville Jackson, the author of the report. “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.”

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, application rates varied widely.

At Los Angeles High School of the Arts, 92% of seniors completed the federal aid application.

About 75% of seniors at Fairfax High School completed the federal and state applications. 

At Jordan High School in Watts, however, only 36% of seniors completed the federal application and 44% sought state aid.

The report suggested that lawmakers and educators increase communication to districts, schools and students about the availability of aid and the importance for applying for it. The report also encouraged greater transparency on aid application rates to further publicize the gap in participation.

“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, the nonprofit's executive director. “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.”

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-- Stephen Ceasar

 
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