Financial Aid Awareness Month

By Gerson Liahut-Sanchez
Government Relations & Communications Fellow, Community College League of California

Saturday, February 29, 2020

According to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a student is considered homeless if he or she does not have regular, fixed, or even adequate housing. This is inclusive of students who live in parks, motels, cars, shelters, and others who live with other people on a temporary basis since they do not have anywhere else to go. Almost every part of the world contains students who are homeless, but many studies find that California is one of the leading states in the world where homelessness has become a major concern. In an effort to minimize the level of educational and financial unattainability, the Community College League of California has released a new report offering California Community Colleges recommendations for reducing institutional and procedural barriers that prevent students from receiving their maximum financial aid, while also improving the disbursement of financial aid awards in a timely manner.

The purpose of the report, Increasing Student Access, Success and Equity: California Community College Student Focused Financial Aid Policies, is to aid colleges to attain two distinct goals:

  1. Reduce institutional and procedural barriers that prevent students from receiving the maximum financial aid for which they are eligible to assist them in completing their educational goals, and
  2. Improve the disbursement of financial aid in a timely manner using data-driven decisions to mitigate institutional risk.

Many low-income students, particularly disadvantaged students such as those who are homeless, have incomplete information regarding their parents’ income which prevents them from completing the financial aid application. While homelessness or student-debt does not have an easy fix and it will require large sums of money and time in order to begin to remedy the issue, in the short term, college institutions must take the lead in creating safe spaces on its campuses where students can receive food and other personal items so that students do not go hungry and can focus on their studies. Financial aid administrators can utilize their professional judgment by interviewing students and collecting documents to substantiate changes to the student’s dependency status. 

Additionally, at the state level, the legislature must expand its Cal Grant Entitlement program to provide grant money that will go straight into the pockets of the student to find adequate housing. In the long run, the community college system, in general, needs to be revamped, this scales as far as its funding formula and how it operates all the way to the way financial aid offices provide their students their cost/aid estimates. Community college students make up more than two-thirds of the state's college students but only receive less than 10% of the state’s financial aid. 

The task force outlines four recommendations for financial aid offices:

  • Annually review financial aid data.
  • Ask questions regarding current financial aid policies or procedures.
  • Set measurable goals for your college and financial aid department.
  • Implement best practices to maximize the amount of resources that go towards their students.

Community colleges need equal investment compared to their four-year counterparts. While housing is a crisis even for Californians who aren’t students, creating partnerships with local four-year institutions and building tiny homes for homeless students will set students up for success by providing them with a safe environment to complete their educations and exit poverty.       

Gerson Liahut-Sanchez is the Government Relations and Communications Fellow for the Community College League of California.