How Will Los Angeles Unified Get Seniors To Apply For Financial Aid?
The superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District got a new assignment from the Los Angeles Unified school board this week: Come up with a plan for getting all high school seniors to apply for financial aid for college.
Starting next year, a new state law requires all high school seniors to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or, for resident undocumented students, California Dream Act application. Submitting one of these forms makes a student eligible for government grants, low-interest loans and scholarships for college.
Students can opt out of the requirement but will have to fill out a form to do so.
The school board's unanimously passed resolution asks the superintendent to come up with a plan within 180 days for complying with the law, which takes effect for the 2022-23 school year. The resolution sets a goal for 80% of seniors to complete a financial aid application by the 2022-23 school year "while striving" for 100%.
The resolution also seeks to build post-graduation planning into the Individualized Graduation Plan that students complete annually with their academic counselors. And it calls for professional development and planning time for counselors to help students with their post-graduation plans and financial aid applications.
"We know that, unfortunately, a huge barrier to college for so many of our students and students around the country is affordability," said school board vice president Nick Melvoin.
At the same time, he noted, an estimated $500 million in federal and state financial aid goes unused in California, according to The Education Trust – West, a nonprofit group that advocates for greater access to college.
California is now among just a handful of states that require high school seniors to apply for financial aid. Val Verde School District in Riverside has had a requirement in place since 2017 and has seen a steady rise in the number of students enrolling in college immediately after high school.
Last year, nearly 64% of LAUSD seniors completed financial aid applications. That's higher than the statewide average of 50%, and higher than some other large urban school districts, including Long Beach (59% financial aid completion) and San Diego Unified (59% completion), according to data from the California Student Aid Commission.
Still, getting to 100% will require all staff to help students through the complicated forms, said Melvoin. And that help, he said, should be incorporated into the regular school schedule.
"You say, you know, next Tuesday is FAFSA completion day and the first half of the day, the entire school is going to be focused on this,” he said. “And we're going to bring in outside partners and volunteers and every teacher, every counselor, every person on campus is going to drop everything and spend a few hours helping kids do this."