In January, San Diego Foundation supported the Financial Aid Blitz, a collaborative effort across San Diego County to provide hands-on support for students navigating the intricate landscape of financial aid. I had the privilege of visiting four event sites and witnessed firsthand the immediate impact our collective efforts had.

Amidst the bustling activity at the Malcolm X Library site, one Spanish-speaking parent stood out, facing the challenge of accessing and completing the parent portion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). With the application in English, the language barrier added an extra layer of complexity to the already daunting task. I watched as a trained college access coach sat with her to offer one-on-one support, guiding her through the application in her native language.

Cal-SOAP workshop

The impact of this personalized support goes far beyond mere navigation; it touched the heart of the parent striving to secure a brighter future for their child. The sense of ease and trust was apparent when the parent and their student expressed deep gratitude for the support to submit their FAFSA successfully. It was heartening to see the enthusiasm and gratitude from those who may have otherwise struggled to complete these forms, especially since it’s essential to access the $150 billion in federal, state and other sources of financial aid available each year. It also affirmed our Community Scholars Initiative’s focus.

Despite its vital importance for college-going, students face considerable barriers in completing financial aid forms. To access that aforementioned $150 billion in federal, state and other sources of financial aid, students must successfully submit a completed FAFSA or California Dream Act Application (CADAA) annually. Due to the transition to a new FAFSA system this year, the application window has been shortened from six to four months. The California priority deadline is May 2, 2024.

The Financial Aid Blitz provided 21 Cash for College workshops spanning as far south as San Ysidro, as east as Santee and as north as Oceanside. Supported by San Diego Foundation and coordinated by the California Student Opportunity and Access Program (Cal-SOAP) San Diego and Imperial Counties Consortium, the collective efforts of 144 volunteers, including financial aid professionals, college readiness coaches and translators, we were able to assist 1,176 students from across the county in completing essential steps for financial aid forms.

Cal-SOAP workshop

The event showcased the community’s commitment to access to higher education. Community-based organizations and college access professionals rallied together to expand their reach and provide expertise to students and families. This speaks volumes about our region’s dedication and underscores the pressing need for accessible financial aid resources.

One sobering reality we confront is the significant amount of federal Pell Grant funding left unclaimed in San Diego County. Many eligible students, for various reasons, miss out on these crucial funds that could make a substantial difference in their educational journey. The Financial Aid Blitz aims to bridge this gap, ensuring every student has the support and resources to access the financial aid they deserve.

It’s your unwavering support that makes events like the Financial Aid Blitz possible. Your commitment to empowering education transcends barriers and propels us toward a future where every student can realize their academic dreams.

As we reflect on the success of the Financial Aid Blitz, let us continue working together to create lasting change in the lives of San Diego students.