Cal Grant program hands out more awards, but falls short of expectations

The Associated Press
Thursday April 18, 2002

RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. — Officials from California’s expanded Cal Grant scholarship program say they’ve worked out the bugs that led to a shortfall in the number of grants given out last year. 

Preliminary numbers show about 53,000 graduating high school students have already received money for college in the most recent application cycle, according to Carole Solov, spokeswoman for the California Student Aid Commission, which handles the Cal Grant program. 

That’s 4,500 more than the previous year, but it’s still about 30,000 short of projections made before the new program started. 

The Cal Grant program has been around since 1956. It aims to help every qualified high school student get a degree. Under the old program, any California student could apply, but only about 30,000 students received a grant. 

In 2000, the state bumped up funding for the program but implemented restrictions on who could apply. There are now an unlimited number of guaranteed grants available, but only recent high school graduates who meet certain financial requirements are eligible. For older students, a more competitive grant was established, but the number of grants was capped at 22,500 per year. 

The new program was criticized last year when the number of grants fell short of the target in its first year. Program officials estimated they would give out 95,000 guaranteed grants, but only gave out 48,500, meaning more than $90 million went unused and was returned to the state. 

The problem, according to Solov, was that more than 100,000 students applied for the competitive grants and not enough students qualified for the guaranteed grants. 

Legislatures tried to shift $35 million from the guaranteed to the competitive program, but the bill failed. 

Another problem was that many of the 188,000 applications that came in last year had incomplete information and were eliminated. This year, commission employees will call more than 24,000 students who incorrectly filled out the forms and let them reapply. More money is also being spent on public awareness to encourage more students to apply.