Increasing the Take-Up of Cal Grants

A simple, no-cost letter redesign, informed by behavioral science, could increase Cal Grant take-up and enable more students to attend college.


Over 150,000 low- and moderate-income California high school graduates each year are eligible for Cal Grant 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.

Research Project

In 2017-18, 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.

Research Team

Professor Jesse Rothstein (Co-Principal Investigator) and Professor Elizabeth Linos (Co-Principal Investigator), Vikash Reddy, Samantha Fu, Charles Davis


In the 2017-2018 experiment, 67.0% of students who received the original letter had registered for accounts by September 1, 2018, compared to 72.0% who received the simplified letter and 73.2% who received the letter with additional sentences about belonging.  

After registering for a WebGrants4Students account, students must enroll in college to receive their Cal Grant awards. In the 2017-2018 experiment, the payout rate was between 61 and 63 percent in all three groups. While the treated groups had slightly higher payment rates, the differences were very small — small enough that they could have arisen by chance. 

Read the November 2019 report

The results of our 2018-19 findings are forthcoming in 2021.

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