Why Do Some Students Fail to Receive Pell Grants? (2019)

Because of California’s College Promise Grant program, low-income students at the California Community Colleges have their tuition and fees covered. California’s program means that students who are eligible for federal Pell Grants can use those funds to cover non-tuition expenses like housing, food, and books. Pell Grants are a crucial form of aid to help students to focus on school, given the high cost of living across the state.

Previous research from Wheelhouse: The Center for Community College Leadership and Research showed that more than 20 percent of eligible California community college students who successfully apply for financial aid still do not receive the Pell Grant. They calculated that nearly $130 million is “left on the table” in a single semester as a result of students not receiving the financial aid they deserve. Crucially, Wheelhouse’s research showed that the rates of financial aid uptake varied by campus.

In this research brief, Wheelhouse surveyed financial aid directors from community colleges across the state to gain insight into policies, practices, and perceptions toward student aid. Their findings highlight a few key factors including the Pell “verification” process, which requires additional documentation after the FAFSA form is submitted, and how information about eligibility and the verification process is communicated to students by financial aid offices. College Futures Foundation provided a grant that funded this research.

The brief outlines recommendations to ensure more students receive the federal aid they deserve, including:

  • Students should not be encouraged to decline Pell grants in order to save them for future studies. (Pell Grants can only be received for six years.)
  • Colleges should use additional methods of communication with students beyond email.

Read the brief for the complete survey findings and additional insights into what campuses can do to help students secure aid.

Download Why Do Some Students Fail to Receive Pell Grants? Survey Evidence from California Community College Financial Aid Directors

Visit Wheelhouse’s website