Fewer students get aid despite expanded grant program

The Associated Press
Monday June 18, 2001

Incorrect forms causing a big problem for needy California college students 


SAN FRANCISCO – Although California education officials have expanded the state’s $500 million college scholarship program, fewer students are expected to receive grants next fiscal year – in part because many applicants didn’t fill out the forms correctly. 

Last year, the Legislature increased funding for the Cal Grants program by $131 million, to $503 million. 

The goal was to expand the number of recipients from 77,600 this year to 125,000 for the fiscal year that begins next month, the San Jose Mercury News reported. But program administrators worry they won’t be able to match current totals. 

Cal Grants are available to California residents attending public or private colleges in the state. They range from $1,550 to nearly $10,000, depending on where a student attends school. The program guarantees financial aid to low-income students who earn a C average or above. 

Gov. Gray Davis has hailed Cal Grants as “the most generous college financial aid program in the nation.” 

But while the bank remains open, not enough people are lining up. 

The commission awarded 77,600 awards this year, but expects to parcel out about 75,500 grants in the fiscal year beginning July 1. 

One reason is that forms can be complicated and applicants are not filling them our properly, Wally Boeck, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission, told the Mercury News. 

Next year, he said, the applicant pool will be larger as an additional high school graduating class becomes eligible for the grant, which is guaranteed so long as students meet academic and financial qualifications. 

Legislators who supported the expansion last year said the decrease in awards was disappointing. 

“It’s unbelievable,” said Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara, chairwoman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. “We were supposed to give grants to 125,000 students and we will be offering them to 75,500 students.” 

Alquist said she plans to hold a hearing next week into the shortfall. 

Boeck said additional funding for outreach would help increase the number of applicants. Pending legislation would provide up to $5 million, including money to employ college students to help applicants fill out the forms.