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By California Student Aid Commission

California teachers make a lasting impact on their students’ lives. Their support and encouragement to ensure that all high school seniors apply for financial aid can be life changing.

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 serve as gateways to upward mobility for students and families,” 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. Teachers and counselors provide essential support to students making plans for life after high school graduation.”

Universal participation in financial aid applications significantly impacts college enrollment. In addition to unlocking financial aid, preparing for, promoting, and assisting students with financial aid applications promotes a culture that encourages more students to plan for and attend college or job training. Nationally, 92% of high school seniors who completed the FAFSA enrolled in a college or university, while only 51% of their peers that did not complete a FAFSA ultimately enrolled.

“By investing in efforts to increase financial aid application completions, we are investing in our students’ futures and in the future of California.” – California Student Aid Commission Board Chair Catalina Cifuentes 

Many students, especially those who are first-generation or low-income, do not know about the financial aid resources that are available to them. 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.”

In the 2022-23 school year, we witnessed an encouraging increase in students submitting their FAFSA and CA Dream Act applications, outpacing the previous year. More than 60% of high school seniors in California’s graduating class of 2023 submitted a FAFSA or CADAA by March 2, the deadline for students planning to attend a 4-year college. By September 5, the deadline for students heading to community college, the total financial aid completion rate for the Class of 2023 climbed to 74.2%. This progress is a testament to the invaluable partnership of teachers and counselors who provide critical support to students at schools and districts of all sizes.

When we do not ensure that all our students apply for financial aid, money is left on the table that could help pay for college or career training for many more students. In January of 2022, the National College Attainment Network reported that $3.75 billion in Pell Grants went unused for the high school class of 2021 due simply to students not applying for aid. California left the largest pot of money on the table at over $561 million in unutilized dollars. Students without adequate financial aid resources often look to loans and credit cards to pay for college, or may not even consider pursuing higher education or career training altogether.

CSAC collaborates closely with educators through its All In for FAFSA/CADAA campaign. CSAC and a network of local partners, including Cash for College Regional Coordinating Organizations and the California Student Opportunity and Access Program (Cal-SOAP), provide resources for schools working to help all graduating seniors complete a financial aid application.

Our goal is to build on and exceed the progress made in 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 more accessible, expanding eligibility for financial aid.

The California Student Aid Commission CSAC is ready to help schools and districts navigate the release of the Better FAFSA, expected in late December, a delay of several months. 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.

We will need all hands on deck at the state, district and high school levels to keep making progress and ensure that students don’t lose ground in this inaugural year of the Better FAFSA. Teachers will play a critical role in helping high school seniors complete and submit the FAFSA / CADAA before graduation.

Schools and districts can use the CSAC Race to Submit Dashboard to monitor local progress toward universal participation and target outreach efforts to students who need extra support.

To learn more information about the All in for FAFSA/ CA Dream Act All In campaign and resources, visit

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