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Cal grant program works out the bugs: goal is to provide aid to every California student in need. (Financial Aid Watch).

This year's goal for the California Student Aid Commission: not to make the same mistakes twice.

Last year, the program was rife with problems. "The expanded Cal Grant program was brand-new, and the average person on the street didn't understand its complexities," says Robert Caret, president of San Jose State University. It turned out to be so complex, in fact, that about half of the 188,000 applications were discarded because schools and community colleges did not know to provide the necessary student transcripts. Many more applications contained incorrect information, or were submitted by families that were above the maximum income level.

The Commission planned to award 95,000 grants last year (70,000 or so entitlement awards to needy students less than 18 months out of high school, and 22,500 competitive-grant program awards for older students). But only about 47,000 entitlement awards were actually made, while more than 100,000 older students vied for the competitive grants. So, although program funding had been increased to $500 million, last year about $go million was returned unused to the state.

This year, however, changes to the program should result in more Cal Grants being awarded, says Carole Solov, a spokeswoman for the Commission. In fact, although it's too soon to know for sure, early indications are that the highly touted Cal Grant financial aid program is on track to live up to its potential. "We have a great deal more completed applications this year, and we have received quite a few more GPAs from schools," Solov told University Business. A big change in the program: an intensive effort to reach graduating high school seniors and their parents, so that more students can take advantage of the Cal Grant. The Commission has launched an extensive, statewide, $1.1 million advertising campaign targeting students and parents through radio and newspaper ads, with a special emphasis on ethnic groups. Solov says that the goal is to have every single graduating high school senior with need apply for a Cal Grant.

The Commission has also offered Cal Grant application workshops to counselors and financial aid administrators, and has produced a how-to video for students and parents completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) needed to qualify for the grant.

In February, local school officials and volunteers at 250 sites around the state worked with parents and students to help them fill out Cal Grant applications. San Jose State University was one of the schools participating in the event. "We're doing a much better job this year," Caret says.

Schools were also encouraged to remind students to get their transcripts in; a new Internet system enables schools to upload transcripts directly into the Cal Grant data system. "Colleges and universities can help with the outreach to high schools, particularly in the areas with the highest socioeconomic challenges that need the grants the most," says Caret. "College and K-12 districts must work together."
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Author:Rivard, Nicole
Publication:University Business
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:490
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