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In reading the Opinions piece titled “It’s time to take a closer look at the Cal Grant and its systemic disadvantages,” the Financial Aid Office at UC Riverside wanted to provide a response as we believe that it can help clear up some information that was published.

Financial aid application process: California resident students must apply for financial aid by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the California Dream Act Application (CADAA). The financial aid application that’s used would be based on a student’s citizenship status – citizens and eligible noncitizens (e.g., permanent residents) can use the FAFSA and our undocumented students can use the CADAA.

The editorial mentioned that undocumented students cannot receive federal aid because there’s no tax returns – however that is not exactly accurate. Undocumented students cannot receive federal aid because they cannot apply using the FAFSA due to their immigration status. And therefore, they can’t use the IRS data retrieval tool that’s available through the FAFSA.  However, our undocumented students can fill out the CADAA. In fact, many of them do! And many of our undocumented students and their families do file taxes and may receive generous financial aid packages.

The editorial also referenced that students must chase down documents even though they are estranged from their parent. This also isn’t exactly true. We do ask for information about parents’ tax returns; however, if we hear that a student is estranged from their parent, we ask them to document it for us (usually by just writing up a personal statement). If a student has no parental information to add due to estrangement from both parents, then we go through a dependency override appeal process with the student. It’s called a dependency override because the financial aid application usually considers students dependents when they are 23 years old or younger. Therefore we must go through this appeal process to document and collect supporting evidence to prove to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) why we are advocating for a student to be considered as independent. 

How financial aid is determined: Moreover, we wanted to help explain how aid eligibility is determined. The editorial stated that financial aid applications make certain assumptions based on income and not household size. However, household size is considered. Currently, family income and household size are some of the biggest factors in determining how much financial aid a student can receive, and there is even a formula that is used to determine aid eligibility. The formula considers income, assets, untaxed income, household size and who of the student’s siblings in that household are going to college (for their undergraduate degree). It also protects part of a family’s income because it knows that the income the family earns is used to pay for housing, food, and other expenses. This information is public and can be found on the federal government website.  

The Cal Grant application process: Applying for Cal Grant is a two-step process. The editorial said it was confusing to apply, but we’re writing to clear that up for you. When students are applying for Cal Grant for the first time (or because they lost it and are trying to re-apply), they will need to submit their FAFSA or California Dream Act Application along with ensuring that their GPA was submitted to the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC). 

Our office automatically sends a student’s GPA to CSAC when they’ve completed at least 36 units. This is usually for our continuing students and even new transfer students. However, if you are a new first year who doesn’t have Cal Grant nor has completed 36 units, then you’ll need to go back to your high school and ask them to send your GPA – even if one was already sent last year.  

If you currently have Cal Grant, then you only need to file your 2022-2023 financial aid application (FAFSA or California Dream Act Application) to be considered for Cal Grant for the next academic year. 

Lastly, even if CSAC determines that you’re not eligible for the Cal Grant, our university is able to evaluate students to see if they can qualify for other forms of aid such as the UCR Grant.

The future of financial aid: We know a lot of this process can appear very complex – but that’s why we are here to help! Our office is tasked with collecting documents on behalf of the federal government and/or the state to help determine financial aid eligibility. However, there are some active efforts happening at the Capitol that are meant to help simplify the financial aid process and this is resulting in some legislative changes. For example, this year the DOE removed the negative consequences associated with drug convictions and failure to register for Selective Service. More changes are coming and will be fully implemented in the academic year 2024-2025. 

How to contact the Financial Aid Office: We understand that financial aid can be complicated, so we’d like to encourage students to contact us if they have any questions. We have multiple ways that you can reach us. If you’re coming to campus, you can book an appointment with the Highlander One-Stop Shop (HOSS). This is a place where you can get help regarding Undergraduate Admissions, Financial Aid, Office of the Registrar, and Student Business Services. They are open by appointment only from Monday-Friday 9am-5pm. You can also call our office at 951-827-3878 Monday-Friday from 9am-4pm or you can email us at finaid@ucr.edu or even use the chatbot and get help 24/7 – sometimes even with a live representative. We’re also on Instagram and post reminders and our most common processes/procedures.

We also wanted to share that we have a Financial Wellness Program where we can help students manage their money through individualized coaching appointments, quarterly workshops (covering topics such as budgeting, credit, loan repayment, and investing) and mini educational lessons through Instagram.

Thanks for letting us share this information with you. We hope you find it useful!

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