How Oakland Unified Graduates Left Over $16 Million on the Table and What We Can Do

Educational Policy is too often about promises and pledges with few delivered results.   Amidst the best intentions, everything comes down to implementation.  And if last year’s FAFSA submission rate is any indicator, Oakland Unified has a lot of work to do, as only 45% of seniors completed one.

You know the FAFSA, the form that qualifies you or your child for financial aid.  And failing to fill it out on time can have huge consequences.  Consequences that I will bet dollars to donuts fall disproportionately on Black, Brown, and low income students.

The numbers–according to the Oakland Achieves report preview, only 45% of OUSD 12th graders submitted FAFSAs in 2015, while 72% of public charter school students did.

The Costs of a Late Form

Dataquest noted that OUSD had 2971 12th graders last year, so 55% failed to turn in a FAFSA, that’s 1634 students.  The harm in a late form is that many financial aid programs are on a first come first served basis, so the later you get your paperwork in the less money is left, and sometimes there is nothing left.

Money Magazine described this,

Why submit your FAFSA early? The best aid packages are generally awarded early on, leaving whatever funds are leftover to go to those who wait to apply. Many programs will even run out of funds well before the June 30 deadline, which means you reduce your chances for aid the longer you wait. By submitting as close to Jan. 1 as possible, you’re also more likely to comply with any state or college deadlines, which may be much earlier than the federal deadlines.

Same with Cal Grants, students can get up to $12,240 for a Cal Grant to a UC.  But those can run out.

So 1634 seniors missed this chance a year ago, while they may not all go to college, many of our students could, and they could get significant aid packages.  But they won’t without a FAFSA.  And particularly for low income families, there is a major sticker shock to college, even moreso for more elite options.   The good news is that there are resources to help.  The bad news seems to be that families aren’t accessing them.

If we assume $10,000 per student for those 1664 students, you are at over 16 million dollars.  While the calculations are admittedly rough, even if the number is half that or less it’s a huge number for Oakland’s kids and families.  And it’s completely from a missed deadline.

Being Accountable for Our Promises

As we implement the Oakland Promise which pledges an educational pathway for all students and college support, we need to pick this low hanging fruit.  The Promise envisions “future centers” where the “vision is that every Oakland high school student will have access to a Future Center where they will develop college and career plans within a decade.”  Well the FAFSA is one key metric, that should be easy to move the needle on.

Oakland is promising to do a lot of hard things for kids in the coming years, we should start with something relatively easy that pays immediate returns to kids and families.  If you don’t get your FAFSA in you are not going to college, if you get it in, the door is still open financially.

So every high school, region, charter school, and the district as a whole should set a 90% on time FAFSA completion goal.  We may not get there but we can do a hell of a lot better than 45%.

The saying goes, “if hungry people could eat words they would be fat.”  Well in education, if promises could teach, every Black, Brown, and low income kid would have a Ph.D.

Too many visions for our children have ended up mirages.  Let’s move beyond the rhetoric and ratchet up the action, and turn these promises into practices.  The FAFSA is a good place to start.


For info on Cal Grants look here

For the latest FAFSA info and deadlines here

There is help available for both schools and families search the web or check providers like the one below.

Thanks to which is a great resource for families and schools in college admissions, readiness, and support, for providing background on the FAFSA process and advice

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