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College Financial Aid Applications Drop 15% Among Undocumented Californians

A Los Angeles City College worker with their back to the camera sits in front of a laptop computer at a black-draped table beneath a canopy as students line up for help at an outdoor back to school event on campus.
Students at Los Angeles City College in line for a back-to-school event on campus.
Courtesy Los Angeles City College)
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College Financial Aid Applications Plummet Among Undocumented Californians

Some 7,000 fewer undocumented California students applied for financial aid for college during the pandemic — a 15% drop since 2019, according to data from the California Student Aid Commission.

The commission administers the state's Cal Grants, which cover full tuition at University of California and Cal State campuses schools for low-income students, and also help students pay for private four-year colleges and community colleges.

"It is a very concerning drop," said Marlene Garcia, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission. She said the thousands of undocumented students who didn't apply for a Cal Grant are probably those hardest hit by the pandemic, and may have canceled their college plans.

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California Dream Act Applications, 2019-2021

Graph of California Dream Act applications showing drop from 2019 to 2021
Some 7,000 fewer students submitted California Dream Act applications for college financial aid during the 2020-21 funding cycle compared to 2018-2019, before the start of the pandemic.
Courtesy of California Student Aid Commission)

Plus, on the heels of the Trump administration’s stringent immigration policies, many undocumented families may be scared to sign up for a government program, she said.

"We've really tried to communicate that their identities are protected, and that this is a benefit that California offers to all students, including students without immigration documentation," Garcia said.

Many Community College Students Didn't Apply For Aid, Either

State financial aid officials also noted an estimated 17% drop in financial aid applications among community college students since 2019. Enrollment in community colleges has also dropped sharply during the pandemic.

The state student aid commission hopes to boost applications among undocumented students and community college students with new marketing efforts, including a presence on TikTok, and targeted outreach.

The new state budget also includes an expansion of financial aid for community colleges to include many older students who were previously left out.

Students can begin applying for state financial aid for next fall on Oct. 1.

Have a question about access to higher education?
Jill Replogle covers the pathways to higher education and the obstacles students face along the way.

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