Financial aid site clarifies process

By Joe Moreno | Staff Writer

Enrollment in a California community college serves as an economical way to minimize the financial impact of the first two years of higher education.

Yet a college degree still comes at a cost. To help students afford it, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office has launched an updated and redesigned version of its financial aid awareness website. The site aims to help students navigate their numerous financial aid options.

“Unfortunately, too many Californians do not apply for assistance because they wrongly think they can’t afford college, they believe it will take too long to complete the forms, or they are mystified by the process,” California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris said in an emailed statement. “Isn’t it worth 30 minutes to potentially get thousands of dollars in aid to pay for your education?”

The site will make the process “easier, faster and more convenient for students to find out about the types of aid for which they are eligible and how to apply so they can make their higher education dreams a reality,” Harris said.

The newly revamped site is easier-to-navigate, offers a clear picture of the many different types of financial aid available and directly connects students to the required forms or to one-on-one assistance at their local college, said CCCCO Director of Communications Paige Marlatt Dorr.

“Financial aid advisors and directors from around the state participated in the development of the revised website,” Dorr said.

Students who access the chancellor’s site may research the aggregated list of earnings of graduates to provide an estimate of potential wages, the Student Success Scorecard, which details student performance at all 112 colleges, and the Associate Degree for Transfer website, which was developed to make it easier for students to transfer.

Users can also connect with a California community college financial aid advisor via phone, email or through setting up a one-on-one appointment to get help with financial aid forms, locating financial aid events and accessing information about the California Dream Act.

The California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the nation with 112 colleges serving 2.1 million students per year.

The California Community Colleges “I Can Afford College” campaign got its start back in April 2004, shortly after the state legislature increased system enrollment fees from $18 to $26 per unit, and is funded with Proposition 98 funds.

Since the campaign launched, more than 2.5 million people have visited the website and the number of community college students receiving some type of financial aid has increased by 68 percent, Dorr said.

Approximately 485,000 California community college students received Pell Grants totaling nearly $1.6 million and more than 1.1 million students received a BOG Fee Waiver, totaling more than $751 million for the 2012-2013 academic year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The sites re-launch arrived just in time for April, which was Financial Aid Awareness Month.

Citrus College held a Financial Aid Literacy Awareness Fair on April 10. The Financial Aid Department partnered with other college departments and community organizations to increase awareness of financial aid programs and services. More than 500 students participated in the fair, said Carol Thomas, Citrus College director of financial aid.

“An overwhelming majority stated they found the fair useful, well organized, and indicated the fair increased their awareness of financial aid,” Thomas said. “Students indicated they would like to see even more information, more vendors, increased advertisement, and for us to keep doing it again and again, they really enjoyed it.”

Despite increased awareness many students still fail to take advantage of the multitude of financial aid resources available to them.

The website features a step-by-step guide to finding and securing the right kinds of aid to fund individuals community college experience. The five step guide covers eligibility; application preparation; apply now, which assists with FAFSA, Cal Grant, Chafee Grant, the Dream Act and BOG Fee Waiver; get help, which helps locate workshops; and what’s next, which tells students what to expect after applying.

The CCCCO hopes the site will help educate current and prospective students about the year-round availability of financial aid to help pay for fees, books, supplies and in some cases even rent.

For more information visit the website. For those students who do not have Internet access there is a toll free phone number – 1-800-987-ICAN (4226) – that directly connects students with their local community college financial aid office.

Students can also get updates, deadline reminders, news and more by connecting with the “I Can Afford College” campaign on Facebook and Twitter – and @icanafrdcollege.