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Now is the time to complete the FAFSA for college financial aid in the fall

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, January 24th, 2014 at 4:29 pm in Education.

If your child plans to attend to college in the fall, now is the time to start working on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to determine eligibility for grants, scholarships and loans.

The California Student Aid Commission is offering workshops throughout the state to help high school seniors and their families learn how to qualify for college financial aid and fill out the online forms by the state’s March 2 deadline.

Such meetings are coming up from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 25 in the Antioch High library, 700 W. 18th St. in Antioch; from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Jan. 25 in the library and computer labs at Mt. Diablo High, 2450 Grant St. in Concord; and from 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 3 in the Deer Valley High theater at 4700 Lone Tree Way in Antioch. I attended a similar meeting earlier this month at Ygnacio Valley High in Concord, where parents and students received a brochure entitled “Funding your college future,” along with a “FAFSA on the Web Worksheet” and information about the California Dream Act Application for undocumented students.

More information about these workshops and FAFSA resources is available by visiting “Click on Cash for College.”

The brochure highlighted Cal Grants and Middle Class Scholarships, which are available to students whose families earn up to $150,000 a year. The Cal Grant program guarantees financial assistance based on need to every qualified student who applies, according to the brochure distributed by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. Similar information is being disseminated by assembly members in other districts statewide.

The new Middle Class Scholarship is being phased in starting this year to help students who do not qualify for Cal Grants because their family income is too high. It is expected to reduce student fees and tuition at University of California and California State University campuses by up to 40 percent, after it is fully implemented.

Last year, the West Contra Costa school district helped boost college attendance for its graduates by partnering with the Ed Fund on a FAFSA campaign to ensure that students had the opportunity to complete the FAFSA or the California Dream Application. The West Contra Costa school board will receive a report on this campaign during its Wednesday meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at Lovonya DeJean Middle School at 3400 MacDonald Ave. in Richmond.

“As indicated through national studies, paying for college is the number one barrier keeping kids out of college,” the staff report states. “Recent studies indicate that increasing the FAFSA completion also results in increased college-going rates for districts.”

Only 33 percent of West Contra Costa students completed the FAFSA by the March 2 in 2012, before the districtwide campaign began. The following year, 56 percent of seniors completed the FAFSA, which was a 23 percent gain, according to the report.

To help streamline the application process, the district also uploaded grade-point average data for every eligible senior directly to the California Student Aid Commission. These efforts resulted in 596 seniors from the district receiving Cal Grants, or an estimated $3 million in state aid during their first year of college, the district reports.

All told, the campaign made more than $20 million in state and federal aid available to students to help fund tuition and fees. This translates into more money that their families were able to invest in the local economy, according to the staff report.

This year, the district has set a goal of a 70 percent FAFSA completion rate by March 2.

“We know that the increase in financial aid received by WCCUSD students enables more students to afford to go to college and dramatically increases their likelihood of graduating from college,” the staff report says.

The Ed Fund recognized the work of the College Access Foundation of California for supporting the College Access Initiative, along with partners in the West County College Access Network, including the West Contra Costa school district.

“They are to be commended and held high for their singular focus on college access and success for all district students,” according to the staff report.

The Ed Fund plans to ask the school board to institutionalize the completion of financial aid applications for all district students and to declare January “Financial Aid Awareness Month.”

What steps do you think districts should take to increase their FAFSA completion rates for college-bound seniors?

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