Larry Gordon/EdSource Today
Sacramento State students line up to pay bills and receive financial aid information.

California high schools and school districts will have a new tool starting this week to help them track how many students complete and submit their federal application for college financial aid and to compare those statistics around the state.

The “Race to Submit” dashboard was piloted successfully last year in Riverside County and is now being expanded statewide by the California Student Aid Commission. By publicly showing what percentage of high school seniors properly submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the dashboard is intended to encourage schools, teachers, counselors and students to work to bolster those statistics.

The dashboard also will record submissions of the California Dream Act (CADAA) applications used by undocumented students to receive state-funded aid. Undocumented students are not allowed to apply for federal grants and loans.

Lupita Cortez Alcalá, executive director of the student aid commission, said she hopes every high school and school district will participate. “This campaign is an exciting way to encourage schools to increase their students’ FAFSA and CADAA submission rates,” she said in a statement. “No California student should think that college is not an option for them because they cannot afford it.”

For students hoping to start college next fall, the period to submit FAFSA and Dream Act applications began on Oct. 1 and lasts until March 2. Starting last year, the submission period was changed to start three months earlier and new procedures made it easier for families to submit their income tax information.

Those changes, however, did not seem to make much difference in the percentage of high school seniors who applied for financial aid. About 56.6 percent of the 484,100 seniors in California last spring completed the online applications, according to the student aid commission. That percentage has changed very little over the past five years.

While many high school seniors wind up not attending college, educators want to ensure that the students do not close off the possibility too early by skipping the aid application. Schools now will be able to see in real time how their results compare to others around the state and possibly take steps to help motivate students to complete the applications before the deadline and make sure their high school transcripts are forwarded too.

The FAFSA is the nearly universal application used by the federal and state governments and public and private colleges to figure how much aid a student should receive. It is key to eligibility for federal Pell grants and loans, state Cal Grants and campus scholarships directly from the colleges.

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