Boards of education are key in achieving universal participation in postsecondary financial aid

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 law 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 thousands of students and families every year,” said California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) 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. School boards play a powerful role in making sure that all high schools help all students prepare to navigate their next steps after high school graduation.”

Universal participation in financial aid applications significantly impacts college enrollment. Not only does it unlock financial aid, it also fosters a culture that encourages more students to plan for and attend college or job training. 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 do not know about the financial aid resources that are available to them. This is especially true for first-generation and low-income students. 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 CSAC Executive Director Marlene Garcia. “We can increase college access by making it easy for students to apply for financial aid, and in doing so, we can make postsecondary education and career training a reality for thousands more students.”

Board support

The adoption of a local school board resolution supporting California’s All In campaign and site visits to schools conducting financial aid application activities send a powerful message of support to your community about universal access to financial aid. It also helps students and families become aware of the potential of grants and “free money” available for college or career training.

Since the All In for FAFSA/CA Dream Act policy took effect, California schools and districts have made impressive progress in supporting students with FAFSA and CADAA completion. Thanks to the hard work and collaboration among school boards, K-12 school leaders, counselors, educators, student groups and community based-organizations, more than 60 percent of high school seniors who graduated in 2023 submitted a financial aid application by March 2, California’s priority deadline for state financial aid. By Sept. 5, the deadline for students heading to community college, the financial aid completion rate for the class of 2023 climbed to 74 percent. Schools of all sizes, even those with hard-to-serve student populations, made impressive gains toward universal participation.

Compared to states across the nation, California saw the largest gains in the percentage of high school students completing the FAFSA and outpaced all other states in the rate of financial aid application growth compared to 2021.


The U.S. Department of Education is currently revising the financial aid application, calling it the Better FAFSA, with the intention of making the application easier to complete. Aligned updates to the CADAA will make that form 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 CADAA 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.

CSAC is ready to help school boards and districts navigate the release of the Better FAFSA. To continue progress, strong school board support and consistent communication to district staff, students and families will make a big difference.

In 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, with data to help educators focus outreach efforts to students who need extra support.

As leaders in this vital work, boards of education can help districts and schools build on the momentum of the past year with the goal of more students completing and submitting 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