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October 20, 2009 11:15 AM Community College and Financial Aid Misconceptions

By Jesse Singal

Inside Higher Ed:

Tuesday, the California Public Interest Research Group is releasing a report detailing a survey, conducted during the past spring and summer semesters, of community college students across the state. Chiefly, students were asked about their “work habits, their understanding of financial aid and how these factors might affect their academic success.” The group hopes the rampant misconceptions about financial aid highlighted in the survey will influence state legislators to fund aid counseling programs to help students take full advantage of what is available.
While California community college [tuitions] are the lowest in the nation — an accomplishment which we all can be proud of — they compromise only about 5 percent of the total cost of attendance,” the report reads. “The full cost of attendance that community college students must shoulder, including housing, food, and transportation, is much higher than the $780 that a typical full-time student pays in [tuition]. According to the California Student Aid Commission, total student costs for the nine-month 2009-10 academic year totaled $17,286 for a typical full-time community college student.”

The misconceptions were big ones; many students couldn’t correctly answer “three basic questions about financial aid”:

Fifty-three percent responded incorrectly that they “have to go to school full time to be eligible for financial aid.” Additionally, just 50 percent knew that “taking more classes per term could increase their financial aid award.” Finally, 46 percent mistakenly thought that financial aid “could not be used to cover living expenses, or said that they did not know what it could be used for.”

This goes back, as usual, to whether or not high school students have access to certain information during the application process—a question that hinges hugely on class.

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.