College Board Report Finds Millions in Financial Aid Go Unclaimed at Community College

WASHINGTON, DC — A report released this past spring by the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center found that millions of dollars are left on the table each year by low- and moderate-income students attending community colleges. Even though they are eligible for need-based federal financial aid, these students are the least likely to apply for funds.

The study, The Financial Aid Challenge: Successful Practices that Address the Underutilization of Financial Aid in Community Colleges, conducted in collaboration with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) showed that:

  • In the 2007-08 academic year, 58 percent of Pell Grant-eligible students who attended community colleges either full or part-time applied for federal financial aid, compared with 77 percent of eligible students at four-year public institutions;
  • During the two-year period from fall 2007 to fall 2009, full-time enrollment at U.S. community colleges increased by 24.1 percent;
  • Students are reluctant to apply for aid in part due to a lack of basic understanding, inconsistent or inaccurate information, distrust of government agencies, difficulty using resources during designated hours and a lack of human or technological resources on campus.

College Board President Gaston Caperton said, “Community colleges are a critical part of the U.S. education system. Today, community colleges serve nearly half of all undergraduates in the United States. It is essential that the education community provide the counseling necessary to increase the number of deserving students who receive need-based financial aid so that they can become part of the educated and skilled workforce our country requires to compete in the global economy.”

The study was released at a news conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. where higher education advocates, community college leaders and policymakers came together to talk about the challenges, obstacles and solutions facing community college students. College Board President Gaston Caperton was joined by George Boggs, President and CEO, American Association of Community Colleges; Marc S. Herzog, Chancellor, Connecticut Community College System; Charlene Dukes, President, Prince George’s Community College; and Ronald Williams, Vice President, College Board.

“Community colleges are being called upon to increase college access and student completion rates. That means that we will need to do everything that we can to make college affordable to students,” said George Boggs, president, American Association of Community Colleges. “The challenge is clearly laid out in this report: community colleges serve the most financially disadvantaged students in all of higher education, yet too many qualified students are not getting the financial help they need. I hope this ‘call to action’ will make financial aid a higher priority for all of us in community college leadership.”

The first in a series of community college initiatives from the College Board’s new Advocacy & Policy Center, the study highlights information on successful programs, policies and approaches and provides valuable recommendations on financial aid administration for leaders who are seeking to increase the number of students applying for and receiving financial aid.

The report highlights success stories and provides concrete recommendations to community college leaders and administrators.

For example, in 2001 the Connecticut Community College System created an integrated and centralized division to handle the administrative and technological functions of financial aid management across the state. Since those changes, the Connecticut system has seen the number of students applying for and receiving aid more than double at a time when enrollment has grown by 25 percent. In the 2008-09 academic year, 63 percent of the Connecticut system’s students applied for aid, compared to 42.5 percent of community college students nationwide. Connecticut Community College System Chancellor Marc Herzog estimates that the centralized office has saved nearly $2 million.

Another successful community college program, focused on multicultural students, is run by Kentucky’s Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC). While the entire Kentucky Community College system has seen significant growth in the numbers of multicultural students overall, BCTC has experienced the largest growth among the following groups: Hispanic/Latino 89 percent, Black/African American 74 percent and Asian 93 percent. These increases have led BCTC and its Department on Multiculturalism and Inclusion to seek and devote extensive funding and resources to become a comprehensive division, beginning with outreach to students within their communities and mentoring them to ensure retention and completion of the college process.

The financial aid challenge report references a dozen programs making strides in increasing the number of community college students accessing financial aid. Programs cited included: Nevada P-16 Advisory Council; Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education (ACPE); College Foundation of North Carolina (CNFC); Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation; Puente Project in California; I Can Afford College program in California; At Home in College in New York; Admission Possible in Minnesota; College Forward in Texas; Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) in Kentucky; the Connecticut Community College System and College Goal Sunday in Indiana.

“The value of community colleges is most apparent in times of high unemployment, when those who have lost jobs enroll in college for additional education or training so that they may re-enter the job market,” said Ronald Williams, vice president, the College Board. “Our hope is that this report, through its identification of successful financial aid practices, will help community college leaders around the country respond more effectively to the challenges facing students who are seeking to gain access to available Federal and State financial aid.”

The College Board Advocacy & Policy Center was established to help transform education in America. Guided by the College Board’s principles of excellence and equity in education, the Center works to ensure that students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to succeed in college and beyond. Critical connections between policy, research and real-world practice are made to develop innovative solutions to the most pressing challenges in education today. Drawing from the experience of the College Board’s active membership consisting of education professionals from more than 5,700 institutions, priorities include: College Preparation & Access, College Affordability & Financial Aid, and College Admission & Completion. For more information visit: