When Marie Groark, the executive director of the Get Schooled Foundation, contacted the California Student Aid Commission in January, she was expecting to hear good news about students completing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. That’s not what she got.
This past October saw some significant changes to the FAFSA, designed to make it more accurate and easier complete and, as a result, allow more students more time to make an informed college decision. While the full effects of the new FAFSA won’t be clear until the aid cycle ends this summer, preliminary lessons can be gleaned from the rollout of the new application. While the big-picture takeway is encouraging—the number of FAFSA completions is up nationally and is nearing a new high—the news is not quite as good for the low-income, first-generation, and minority students policymakers hoped the FAFSA changes would help the most.
Get Schooled is a college-access organization that serves those students. It has partnered with the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) for several years to promote a college-going culture, in part by sponsoring school-based contests that reward students for completing the FAFSA. The contests had always taken place in January because, traditionally, it wasn’t until January 1 that students could fill out a FAFSA. Meanwhile, the deadline for CalGrants—which help cover tuition for two- and four-year colleges as well as other costs for students with financial need—is in early March, so, in the past, that meant students and families had a relatively small window to get the FAFSA completed, often having to estimate their income if they hadn’t already filed their taxes.