A novel idea for California: requiring students to fill out financial aid forms

Source: EdSource

Beyond all the debate about the types and sizes of financial aid for college, one fact matters most for students and parents: You can’t get grants and loans unless you apply for them.

That’s why the Val Verde Unified School District in Riverside County became a pioneer in California two years ago in getting more families to complete the application that helps gain access to state, federal and campus aid.

That school district became the first in California to make completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form a requirement for high school graduation. “This is an opportunity for our kids to get a jump start,” said Michael R. McCormick, the Val Verde district Superintendent. (Parents who refuse to participate can opt out by signing a form.)

“Students who know they have access to financial aid are much more likely to see themselves as being able to go to college,” said Elisha Smith Arrillaga, executive director of the Education Trust-West, an advocacy group based in Oakland which supports a statewide FAFSA filing requirement. And since low-income students complete college admissions and aid applications at rates below more affluent ones, a FAFSA requirement with an opt out “will ensure all student have more equitable access,“ she added.

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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.