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Cooling Out in the Verification Process: A Mixed Methods Exploration into the Relevance of Racism in Community College Students’ Financial Aid Experiences


Through this dissertation, I seek to study the experiences of community college students in the financial aid verification process and to learn how this process may cool out these students. Utilizing Burton Clark’s concept of cooling out, a five-step process that lowers the aspirations of community college students, the dissertation makes the argument that the cooling out process is a function of racism. I seek to answer the following research questions: 1) What are the characteristics for community college students that are selected for financial aid verification? 2) To what extent does cooling out exist within the financial aid verification process? If so, how does the financial aid verification process cool out community college students? 3) How does systemic racism play out in the experiences of students in the financial aid verification process? In order to answer the research questions, I employ a mixed methodology that utilizes the analysis of institutional data and interviews in order to learn about the impact that verification has on students attending a community college in California. Based on the analyses of institutional data from the site where study was conducted, only 23% of students selected for verification had received their financial aid disbursement. From the qualitative interviews, student participants expressed their experiences with the financial aid process, shared their interactions with the financial aid staff and how they navigated the verification process. The interviews also discussed financial aid fraud and how students’ race influenced their experience in the financial aid process. The implications for this study provide insight to policy makers and practitioners through a better-informed understanding of the difficulties that students experience in the verification process, how they perceive the verification process, and how racism influences financial aid policies and practices as it pertains to verification.

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