The cost of attending college often determines if students enroll and persist throughout their degree programs. Recognizing the essential role financial aid plays in a student’s success, the Michelson 20MM Foundation was proud to award a Spark Grant to Education Trust–West (ETW) in the summer of 2019, to advance their All in for Financial Aid Campaign. Through the Spark Grant, ETW developed a tool kit to help low-income students and students of color obtain more financial aid by unveiling the best practices and strategies for completing financial aid applications. 

Even though post-secondary education is the key to social mobility, ETW reports that $550M worth of financial aid remains on the table in California due to a lack of awareness, don’t know how to apply or if they qualify, and fear sharing personal information because of their immigrant status. This reality compounded with the fact that slightly more than half (54%) of the state’s graduating class completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or California Dream Act Application (CADAA)  last year further emphasizes the importance of ETW’s research.

Over the past three years, former Education Trust–West Policy Analyst Tyler Wu, who played an important role in advancing the All in for Financial Aid Campaign, developed the Five Components of Success to Help Your Students Receive Financial Aid:

  1. Prioritizing completion
  2. Monitoring data
  3. Establishing partnerships
  4. Building relationships and trust
  5. Student-centered programs

By prioritizing completion of the FAFSA and CADAA before high school graduation, California would be one step closer to closing the equity gap in financial aid access and, ultimately increasing college enrollments. To accurately measure California’s success and opportunities for improvement, it is essential to monitor completion data. Furthermore, many community-based organizations and ed-tech companies have developed tools and resources that can support completion. As students fill out the FAFSA and CADAA, however, those helping them must earn their trust considering the personal data involved. Finally, ensuring that students are at the center of post-secondary equity efforts is the lynchpin behind moving the equity needle in higher education. 

Excitingly, the components are strongly correlated with California Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2021-2022  budgetary proposal. In addition to earmarking $15 million towards a career, education, and workforce data system, Governor Newsom’s proposal requires LEAs (i.e., school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools) throughout the state to confirm if their graduating students have completed the FAFSA, CADAA, or opt-out, which is one step closer to creating a college-going culture and providing in-depth support needed to complete these forms. 

“Our advocacy to advance the All in For Financial Aid Campaign continued throughout the past two years and during this year’s virtual Advocacy Day. ETW joined efforts with community-based organizations in our Community Partners Program to educate legislators about the financial aid proposal,” Dr. Christopher J. Nellum, executive director of ETW shared. “To our excitement, the Proposal for FAFSA/CADAA Completion was approved and signed by Governor Newsom this year. We are grateful to the Michelson 20MM Foundation for their initial investment in our financial aid completion work, and we [are] excited to begin working with local educational agencies to implement the proposal to ensure more students have the opportunity to attend and graduate college.”

By implementing the best practices Education Trust–West uncovered, Governor Newsom’s proposal is a significant step towards increasing college affordability for California’s students.

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation seeking to accelerate progress towards a more just world through grantmaking, operating programs, and impact investing. Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

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