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California Community College Students Missing Out on Nearly $130 Million of Financial Aid Each Semester

Affordability is a major barrier keeping students from pursuing higher education. While the skyrocketing price of college tuition has been discussed at length, less time has been spent examining the additional costs that students often have to bear, like food, rent, books, and transportation. The federally funded Pell Grant helps financially eligible students focus on their studies and earn their degree. Nearly half a million community college students in California rely on the Pell Grant to support their pursuit of a college degree.

“The Pell Grant is the answer to my ongoing success. I would not be the scholar – dedicated to higher education – that I am today if it were not for the generosity of the Pell Grant to make sure I would have the resources necessary to be focused and prepared,” shared Lena Jasmine Richard, 31, a student at Mt. San Antonio College.

Yet according to a recent report from Wheelhouse: The Center for Community College Leadership and Research at the UC Davis School of Education, nearly $130 million is left on the table in a single semester as a result of students not receiving the financial aid they deserve. Wheelhouse’s study found more than 20% of eligible California community college students who successfully apply for financial aid still do not receive the Pell Grant. This means that tens of thousands of low-income California students are missing out on financial support that could potentially change their lives.

“If I lost my Pell Grant funding, I wouldn’t be able to be a full-time student. I’d have to sacrifice my educational goals to make ends meet for myself and my son,” said Janette, 21, a full-time community college student. “School would not be affordable, plus living expenses. I’d have to choose keeping my son fed with a roof over his head over my studies.”

The rate of students receiving the Pell Grant varies widely by campus—even after controlling for factors like student demographics and campus size. This finding suggests that campus-level policies and practices play an important role in ensuring that eligible students receive the federal support they deserve.

Wheelhouse is conducting further research into the factors that lead to students missing out on Pell Grants and seeks to explain the variation in campus take-up rates. Wheelhouse will also assess how not receiving Pell Grants impacts students’ academic success. By understanding what’s preventing students from getting the financial assistance they need, state and education leaders can better ensure all of California’s community college students are on the path to success.


Download Money Left on the Table: An Analysis of Pell Grant Receipt Among Financially-Eligible Community College Students in California