Pell grants unclaimed

Imagine up to $6,000 being handed to students to cover their school expenses. This happens every semester in the form of the Pell Grant, but thousands of dollars go unclaimed by students who do not apply for it.  

The Pell Grant is funded by the government and is available to any eligible student who applies through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Once one receives their awarded amount, they are free to spend the grant on any school related expense.

Such a large percentage of our students are now eligible for the California Promise, The old board of governors waiver,” Interim President Larry Buckley said. “So, many students are thinking I already have the financial assistance I need. Why do this with a Pell Grant?”

Despite FAFSA being a free application, some students do not utilize this resource to pay for tuition, school supplies and other school related finances.

One’s eligibility for the Pell Grant varies from year to year based on a variety of components.  Some of these factors are the income and assets of the student, number of people in one’s household and the number of people attending college in the household. For students who are filed as a dependent on FAFSA, they will need to provide their parents information as well.

In an email response, LACCD Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez sees the complicated nature of applying as a deterrent.

“Applying for financial aid often can be a frustrating and time-consuming process for students who are rightly trying to concentrate on their studies and not filling out confusing and complex financial aid forms,” Rodriguez said. “Often, financial aid is not applied for because students believe they missed a deadline, the form is too complex or they have questions that they cannot easily get answered.”

Rodriguez said that efforts are being made to help in applying, but students still need to start the process.

“Our mission is to change all of that to make it easier for students to apply for and receive the aid they qualify to receive,” Rodriguez said. “Students should also know that completing the financial aid process also triggers college- and district-based scholarships based on academic merit and financial need, but they have to apply for financial aid first!”

In addition to completing FAFSA, some students may be required to complete a verification process from the Department of Education.

“Students will be required, if selected, to submit tax information and that’s when we then need to verify the income information on the tax information versus their FAFSA,” said Anafe Robinson, director of financial aid.

While that is all that is needed to be eligible for the Pell Grant, there are still some students who do not claim their financial aid because of some common misconceptions surrounding eligibility and how disbursement work.

Robinson said the reason she hears the most for students not completing FAFSA is that they believe they need to be enrolled as a full time student to apply for any type of financial aid.

“We recommend students to be full time so they can achieve their educational goal faster,” Robinson said. “The student could be less than full time and still apply. Their eligibility will then depend on the enrollment status, so the Pell Grant amount will be prorated based on enrollment.”

Although there are students who are potentially eligible for the Pell Grant, they are discouraged to apply based on the misinformation they hear about the guidelines to receive financial aid.

Students also do not use their Pell Grant because they believe they can collect the sum of their grant later in their college career.

Financial aid assistant Susan Navaro said students believe they can save their Pell Grant for when they transfer to a separate university. However, the grant becomes inaccessible when students receive a bachelor’s degree or reach the allotted 600 percent of funding.

Every student is encouraged to apply on FAFSA for all types of financial aid that will cover their school expenses depending on their eligibility.

“Our commitment is to help each student every step of the way if needed to make sure they apply, and, if qualified, to get all of the financial aid they are eligible to receive. We want every student to know that now is the right time to apply for financial aid,” Rodriguez said in his email. “For many, receiving financial support can mean the difference between staying in or out of college, and we want them in!”

FAFSA for the 2019-2020 school year will open on Oct. 1.