Editor’s note: A policy brief and working paper, published in October 2021, include results from the second year (2018-19) of this experiment.
Over 150,000 low- and moderate-income California high school graduates each year are eligible for CalGrant entitlement awards, which can cover full tuition and most fees at any of the three public higher education segments in the state, or can make substantial contributions toward tuition at private colleges. Unfortunately, many eligible students don’t take up the awards. Many may not be aware of their eligibility, know how to navigate the system, or feel like these funds are truly meant for them. In 2017-8, the California Policy Lab worked with the California Student Aid Commission to design and test more effective notifications to eligible high school seniors. 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.