In the big picture of things—California’s education system isn’t looking so great. California is 40th in the nation for High School graduates that go straight to college and 46th for how many that graduate from college. Further, there are sizeable racial achievement gaps between Asian and White students and Hispanic and African American students. Often times, the issue is the lack of dissemination of helpful information to these students—steps they should be taking to go to college, Financial Aid available for college, etc. However, with budget cuts in the state, guidance counseling at the high school level ranks 50th in terms of counselor to student ratio. California on average has 1.2 counselors for every 1,000 students. To help spread the news about financial aid at the level that needs it most—we’ve asked Will Skinner of GLOW to speak with us on Financial Aid. GLOW is a non-profit organization based in San Francisco that builds the capacity of schools and nonprofits to help empower under-resourced students and their families to overcome barriers to higher education access and success. GLOW partners with groups across sectors (corporate, education, nonprofit and government) leveraging their resources, expertise, and network. GLOW brings resources and information to school and nonprofits in order to improve their capacity to serve students and increase college graduation rates. Below, Will provides tips and information on Financial Aid awards California Community College students should especially be aware of.
Board of Governor’s Fee Waiver Program (BOGW)
According to Will, there are several different ways you could apply for the BOGW, including options outside of filling out the FAFSA. The BOGW waives tuition fees at community colleges for low income students–the average tuition for a full-time Community College student is $1100 per year–but filling out the FAFSA makes you eligible for even more money. If there’s one piece of advice Will would provide, and that we back it’s: Fill Out the FAFSA. A note to those that are wondering “Is this money free?” The answer is Yes, it is—you do NOT have to pay this back.
The three ways to apply for BOGW
- If you’re already on a public assistance Cal program
- Veteran or the dependent of someone who died in 9/11 or if your father or mother won the medal of honor.
- Qualify from your input from the FAFSA by March 2.
Will’s “Five Point Star” key tip is:
If it’s past March 2, do the FAFSA anyways, even if you missed out on some opportunities—there are plenty more that are available. This is specific for Community College Students that missed the March 2nd deadline—they can still be eligible for any grants that are left if they apply by Sept. 2nd. No matter when you fill out the FAFSA during the year, you can still receive a BOG waiver. If you have already paid tuition to your community college, and you qualify for a Bog Waiver later that year, they will pay you your tuition back!
Cal Grants are another form of free money for California students. Again, you do not have to pay a Cal Grant back. As long as you meet the academic, financial aid and eligibility requirements and submit the two forms by March 2nd you can get free money.
To Apply you’ll need to:
- Fill out the FAFSA between January and March 2nd.
- If you missed the March 2nd deadline, fill out the FAFSA anyway! If you fill it out before September 2nd, you may still qualify for a ‘competitive’ Cal Grant, although only about 5% of eligible applicants receive one.
- Submit a verified California GPA by September 2nd
Will’s key tips for the Cal Grants:
One big stumbling block with many students attempting to obtain the CalGrant is the extra piece of information needed: the GPA verification.
Right now it’s the student’s responsibility to get an electronic GPA verification. Students should call their school’s guidance counselor or administrator to ask “Did you upload my GPA to the CalGrant server?” Some schools do it automatically. That’s the way it should be for everyone, but it’s not always the case. Students need to find out if it’s been uploaded to ensure that they have a fair chance at the CalGrant.
With the FAFSA, students will also be eligible for Federal Student Loans also. These are another option for students, however this money must be paid back. Loans are a good option for students who are not working full time. Will’s tip is to “stay away from for-profit student loans” and stick with Federal loans if loans are necessary.
The California Dream Act
Will’s last tip concerns this new piece of regulation:
In 2001, California passed AB 540, an act which allowed students who have been at a California high school for three years and will receive a diploma, but cannot prove CA residency to receive in-state tuition rates at CA public colleges.
Previously these students would not have been able to apply for CalGrants or BOG Fee Waivers, and if a student was undocumented without a Social Security number, they would not have been able to fill out the the FAFSA or receive any federal student aid.
In 2011, California passed the CA Dream act, which means that AB 540 students can also qualify for Cal Grants and BOG waivers, even if they do not have a Social Security number. Now the California Student Aid Commission has put together their own California dream act application, which is basically the same thing as the FAFSA but for students who don’t have a social security number or can’t prove residency. This is starting during the application cycle for 2013. Students without a social security number will still be unable to receive any student aid from the federal government, such as Pell Grants or subsidized student loans.
Navigating the Financial Aid system can be rough. We hope that these highlights, brought to you by Will Skinner at GLOW will be helpful to all California community college students. If you need to find extra information we recommend trying to make an appointment with your counselor, or looking at www.californiacolleges.edu for answers. At this point we’d like to thank Will and GLOW for taking the time to do this interview to help us spread the word about Financial Aid. We believe together as a community, we can work together towards providing better access to information for students.