FAFSA/CA Dream Act open doors for all students
Educators should be aware of changes this year
November 13, 2023
The following article was submitted by the California Student Aid Commission.
California recently completed the first financial aid cycle since the launch of the All In for FAFSA/CA Dream Act campaign supporting California’s universal financial aid participation law.
This state policy requires local educational agencies, including charter schools, to confirm that all graduating high school seniors complete an application for financial aid (or an opt-out waiver). Students submit either a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or California Dream Act Application (CADAA), depending on their residential status, to access the combination of grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities, student loans and other forms of aid available to help finance postsecondary education or training.
“College degrees and career technical training are gateways to upward mobility for thousands of students and families every year,” said California Student Aid Commission Board Chair Catalina Cifuentes. “By investing in efforts to increase financial aid application completions, we are investing in our students’ futures and in the future of California. All students should complete and submit a financial aid application before they graduate. District and school leaders play a powerful role in making sure that all high school seniors can access this potentially life-changing opportunity.”
Universal participation in financial aid applications significantly impacts college enrollment. In addition to unlocking financial aid, having a plan to assist students with these applications fosters a culture that encourages more students to plan for and attend college or job training after high school. Nationally, 92 percent of high school seniors who completed the FAFSA enrolled in a college or university, while only 51 percent of their peers that did not complete a FAFSA ultimately enrolled.
Many students, particularly first-generation and low-income students, remain unaware of available financial aid resources. Without adequate financial aid resources, students often take out loans or use credit cards to pay for college, or may not even consider pursuing a higher education or career training.
“No student should be denied the opportunity to pursue a college education because they thought they could not afford it and did not know about financial aid,” said Marlene Garcia, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission. “We can increase college access by making it easy for students to apply for financial aid. In doing so, we can make postsecondary education and career training a reality for thousands more students.”
Since California’s universal financial aid participation law took effect, schools and districts made impressive progress in supporting students with FAFSA and CADAA completion and submissions. Thanks to the hard work and collaboration among district and school leaders, teachers, counselors, student groups and community-based organizations, 24,000 more California students submitted FAFSA/CA Dream Act applications by the end of the 2022-23 school year than the year before. Schools of all sizes, including those with hard-to-serve student populations, achieved impressive gains toward universal participation.
Compared to states across the nation in 2023, California saw the largest gains in the percentage of high school students applying for federal financial aid by completing the FAFSA, and California outpaced all other states in the rate of financial aid application growth year over year.
In 2023, more than 60 percent of high school seniors submitted a financial aid application by March 2, California’s priority deadline for state financial aid. By September 5, the deadline to submit for students heading to community college, the total percentage of applications submitted by the graduating class of 2023 increased to 74.2 percent.
CSAC encourages school leaders to build on and exceed the progress from the 2022-23 school year. The U.S. Department of Education is revising the financial aid application, calling it the Better FAFSA, with the intention of making the application easier to complete. Aligned updates to the CA Dream Act will make that application easier to complete as well. It is expected that even more students will be eligible for financial aid as a result.
The Better FAFSA application window will open two months later than in a typical year. For the graduating class of 2024, the priority deadline for FAFSA and CA Dream Act submission will be April 2, instead of March 2.
This compressed timeline could most disadvantage students and families who need greater support to complete the FAFSA — and who have the most to gain from filling out the form. To build upon the progress achieved in the 2022-23 school year, we must mobilize at the state, district and high school levels to ensure that students do not lose ground during the inaugural year of the Better FAFSA.
CSAC is ready to help schools and district leaders navigate the release of the Better FAFSA. In close partnership with California Student Opportunity and Access Program counselors, Cash for College workshop coordinators, and community-based organizations, CSAC provides resources and support for districts and schools as they work to achieve universal FAFSA/CADAA completion. The CSAC Race to Submit Dashboard is a tool that schools and districts can use to monitor their progress toward universal participation, using the data to help focus outreach efforts to students who need extra support.
By building on the momentum of the past year, California’s districts and schools will help even more students complete and submit the FAFSA/CADAA. This collective effort will help to transform lives, break down barriers and open doors to opportunity for many more California students.
To learn more information about the All in for FAFSA/CA Dream Act All In campaign and resources, visit www.csac.ca.gov/all-in.