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California Middle Class Scholarship grants are still available

UC and Cal State students from middle-income families are eligible for awards under the state's new Middle Class Scholarship program. Above, Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley.
(Francine Orr )

In a surprising and somewhat embarrassing situation, administrators of California’s new Middle Class Scholarship program last month awarded only about half the $107 million available. But on Wednesday, officials announced that they were extending application deadlines so more eligible students could receive the grants this year.

University of California and California State University students from families with annual incomes of $80,000 to $150,000 are eligible, and they initially were required to file federal financial aid application forms by early March. Students could receive as much as $1,710 this school year at UC and $768 at Cal State.

But many eligible families didn’t apply because they were unaware of the inaugural program or believed that the intimidating application would result in little or no aid, administrators said at a state Assembly subcommittee hearing in Redondo Beach.

Now, the California Student Aid Commission, which oversees the program, will allow students to apply over the next two months or so to receive the scholarships for the winter and spring terms. There is no fixed deadline for the second round of applications, but commission Executive Director Diana Fuentes-Michel urged students to file no later than December for aid covering the rest of the 2014-15 school year. She said students would receive a prorated amount.

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Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), chairman of the budget subcommittee on education finance, told the audience of parents, students and administrators at Redondo Union High School that he wanted the commission and universities to “beef up their outreach” to middle-income families and provide help with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The commission is planning to do so, Fuentes-Michel said.

Muratsuchi said he hoped that all funding approved for the first year is distributed to students. Any remainder must be returned to the state’s general fund, “and that would be a shame,” he said.

That worry contrasts with initial fears that demand would be so high that the size of the awards would have to be reduced. In fact, just 73,000 awards were made in September, averaging $1,112 at UC and $628 at Cal State, and totaling about $54 million.

An additional 12,500 students may receive grants, totaling about $16 million, pending reviews of their applications. Even so, $37 million might be unspent if deadlines were not extended, officials said.

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Dean Kulju, the Cal State system’s financial aid services director, said it was difficult at first to promote the program to students because many details were not finalized until months after the initial application deadlines. He said he hoped that some of the logistical problems would be solved by next year to make the process “more efficient and timely.”

The sizes of the awards are relatively low at the outset but could more than triple over the next three years if funding comes through.

More information is available on the California Student Aid Commission website or by calling (888) -224-7268.

larry.gordon@latimes.com
Twitter: @LarryGordonLAT

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