Research

Community College Students Forgo Hundreds of Millions in Aid Cash Every Year

California's community college students leave nearly $130 million in Pell Grant awards unclaimed each semester, according to a new report from the Wheelhouse Center for Community College Leadership and Research at the University of California, Davis School of Education.

The report,"Money Left on the Table: An Analysis of Pell Grant Receipt among Financially Eligible Community College Students in California," found that more than 20 percent of the students who successfully applied, demonstrated eligibility and enrolled in the required number of credits still did not receive any Pell Grant aid. The researchers also found that student uptake of Pell Grants varied widely from one campus to the next — swinging from 60 to 90 percent — regardless of student and campus characteristics. According to the authors, campus-level policies and practice may play a role.

The reasons students aren't receiving all the aid they're eligible for are not clear, though failure to fill out the appropriate verification paperwork or barriers to understanding how to access the grant money may be a factor, according to the report. Federal grants can seem complicated and students may not understand, for example, that the Pell Grant, unlike other grants, can be used for costs of living and attendance, such as housing or books.

"The federal Pell Grant program provides a vital resource to offset the full costs of attendance and help our students be successful," said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor for California Community Colleges, in a prepared statement. "The Wheelhouse findings are a call to action for our system, to ensure students are receiving the aid for which they are eligible and that financial aid offices are adequately funded to perform these duties."

Researchers plan to explore the reasons students fail to access these funds, as well as how steps such as increased financial aid counseling and follow-up could help ensure students more fully take advantage of the resources available to them.

"Given these possible explanations, we encourage district and campus leaders and financial aid administrators to examine their own local data and processes to better understand Pell grant receipt on their campuses," the report's authors wrote in their conclusion. "Strengthening financial aid advising and removing any unnecessary barriers to aid receipt can improve student success."

The full report is available at education.ucdavis.edu.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at jbolkan@gmail.com.

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