Bill aims to simplify financial aid

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) introduced legislation that could help streamline the financial aid process for community college students and improve access to government aid programs.

The bill would establish a three-year pilot program at 10 California community colleges where the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA, would be accepted to apply for federal and state financial aid. Currently, students have to fill out two forms, Portantino said.

"The federal form allows you to qualify for state aid; the state form doesn't allow you to qualify for federal aid," Portantino said. "Many California students fill out the state form and never fill out the federal form, and thereby don't qualify for [federal aid]."

The two-form system is keeping students out of classrooms and dollars out of the economy, Portantino said, adding that $500 million in federal aid goes untapped each year.

"Why make people do two things when one works?" Portantino said. "That is inefficient, and the consequence is we are losing hundreds of millions of dollars for our neediest students."

The bill was approved by the state Legislature last fall, only to be vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"I think he felt it was something that could happen without legislation, but the reality of it is it is not happening," Portantino said.

The state deadline for FASFA is March 2, making the next six weeks crunch time for students trying to figure out how to finance their higher education. On Saturday, the consulting firm College Planning Advisors will offer a free workshop at the La Crescenta Library titled "Secrets of College Scholarship and Aid Revealed," in an effort to familiarize families with the college planning process.

Students need to assess schools by program, size and geographic location, said Sam Mikhail, co-founder of College Planning Advisors. They also need to research what percentage of financial aid given out by a particular institution is loaned, and what percentage is in the form of grants or scholarships.

"One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that an expensive school is going to be an expensive cost, but it is not true," Mikhail said. "Sometimes people think all private schools have the same types of funds available, and that is not true either. Just because they have a huge endowment doesn't mean they are generous with those funds."

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