Helping More Students Pay for College

In 2017, CPL began working with the California Student Aid Commission to encourage more eligible students to claim the Cal Grant, the state’s generous college tuition scholarship. Each year, the Commission sends letters to over 150,000 high-performing, low-income students, to encourage them to apply for the Cal Grant. Though eligibility is automatic, it requires an application, and the Commission believes that many eligible students are not taking up the benefit.

CPL is working with the Commission to test the effectiveness of different behavioral interventions designed to increase awareness of the Cal Grant, to emphasize that students belong in college, and to help students understand the net costs of attending different colleges.

Research: We implemented a randomized trial in 2017-18 in which we tested letters informed by behavioral science against the Commission’s original letter. The redesigned letters were clearer, shorter, and encouraged students to think of themselves as college-bound. The results were promising. Students who received the redesigned letters were much more likely to take the first step toward claiming the award than a randomly selected comparison group. Future analyses will measure impacts on college enrollment, CalGrant payouts, and eventual college completion.

Click here to read our report.

Next research phase: In the 2018-19 academic year, we used new technology to provide students with personalized estimates of the net price of attending the colleges they listed on their own FAFSA applications. These letters provide students with apples-to-apples comparisons between the colleges they have expressed interest in attending, using the financial information from they provided on in their FAFSAs. We hope to learn whether students make different college choices when provided more transparent cost comparisons.

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