Every year, billions of dollars in federal and state financial aid go unused because eligible students do not complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or California Dream Act Application (CADAA). According to the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC), just 53 percent of California’s high school seniors in the class of 2019 completed the FAFSA or CADAA.1 Foster youth in particular, who overwhelmingly meet eligibility criteria for financial aid, do not receive the full aid for which they are eligible. For example, only 49 percent of first year foster youth students at community college received a Pell Grant last year, the largest form of federal financial aid, and just 14 percent received a CalGrant.2 This low receipt rate is despite 78 percent meeting the income criteria for these financial aid sources. With education a key driver toward financial stability in adulthood, and receipt of financial aid crucial to enrolling and persisting in college for youth from low-income backgrounds, foster youth need and deserve maximum access to financial aid.
In response to this, in 2017, John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), in partnership with the California Department of Education (CDE) and the California Community College Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO), launched the California Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge. The FAFSA Challenge is a statewide campaign to increase the number of foster youth who are prepared for success as they matriculate from high school into college by ensuring that foster youth are accessing financial aid. From this effort, a number of best practices were identified, and this publication documents these strategies in order to inform foster youth FAFSA/CADAA completion efforts in the years to come