Financial Aid & Access

Background and Focus

Financial aid determines college choice and enrollment for low-income students more than any other income group. The goal of this project pertains to understanding high school student’s perceptions of financial aid and access.

Research Questions

The project focuses on the following research questions:

  • What are the problems that (a) schools, (b) students, and their families, and (c) postsecondary institutions encounter that preclude effective discussions about financial aid?
  • What are the kinds of information, communication, and activities about financial aid that need to take place between schools and postsecondary organizations/educational agencies?
  • What is the most effective environment for discussions about financial aid?
  • What needs to change within the school so that discussions about access to financial aid are clear, systematic, and thorough?

Research Design and Method

To address these questions, the research team designed an action-oriented three year project that includes nine high schools in California’s Los Angeles County with similar low-income, high minority populations. Three high schools have a high college going rate. Three high schools have a low college going rate. The final three high schools are charter schools with mixed rates of college going. At least one high school in each category serves a large population of undocumented students. Interviews, focus groups, and observations served as the main methods of data collection. These methods allowed researchers to engage students, parents, teachers, counselors, and financial aid practitioners throughout the data collection process.


The project will spanned three years; in the first year the main focus is gaining entry and developing relationships at the nine high school sites. Key stakeholders – practitioners, parents, researchers, and students – were included from the project’s inception. In the second year, made repeated visits to the nine high schools sites, gather data, and begin to share findings with key stakeholders. In the third year, the data came together as we develop intellectually and practically sound financial aid information materials, and disseminate the findings.