The California state legislature recently approved two bills relating to student financial aid. The first will improve students\’ access to Cal Grant awards and the second will authorize a state audit of the California Student Aid Commission\’s EDFUND. The Cal Grant bill, Assembly Bill 1241, will ease the application process for potential Cal Grant recipients. Cal Grant awards are given to students with financial need. The awards cover almost the entire cost of student fees, and the students with the most financial need can obtain an \”access\” grant, which covers additional expenses such as books, housing and transportation. A student\’s eligibility is primarily based upon his or her grade point average and his or her family\’s expected financial contribution. A student must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid to the Department of Education and a GPA verification form with certification to the CSAC. This second step is problematic for many, according to Danny Katz, organizing director for the California Public Interest Research Group, a group which supports the bill. Many students do not understand that they need to submit GPA verification to receive a Cal Grant and therefore do not ask their high schools for verification, according to Katz. Because of this misunderstanding, nearly 80,000 otherwise eligible students were denied Cal Grants last year. The bill was authored by State Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews, who was elected in November 2000 to represent the 17th Assembly district of the California State Legislature. \”When colleges don\’t receive information they need from high schools, students are penalized and denied Cal Grants,\” Matthews said in a press statement. \”We need to find ways to remove obstacles and simplify the Cal Grant process. This is one important step to make sure students who work hard in high school are rewarded with the opportunity to pursue a college education.\” AB 1241 will require CSAC to annually report the number of GPAs each high school submits in order for the state to better understand which high schools are not submitting transcripts. The bill will also establish a group that will figure out a way to increase the number of GPAs that high schools submit in the future. \”This bill is important to CALPIRG because … it deals with an issue which is central to everybody-getting more high school students to college and allowing them to be successful even if their financial situation wouldn\’t normally allow for it,\” said Eric Williams, a third-year political science major and chair of UCI\’s CALPIRG chapter. The legislature sent the bill to the governor for approval in early September. AB 1241 is also supported by CSAC, the University of California Student Aid Commission, the California State Student Association and the California Association of Student Councils. The other bill provides for an audit of CSAC\’s EDFUND, a nonprofit organization that provides loans to students and helps manage funding for the Cal Grant program. EDFUND manages $7.1 billion in student loans each year and has a loan portfolio of $24 billion. \”The EDFUND is one of the largest providers of student loan services under the Federal Family Education Loan Program,\” Williams said. State Assemblywoman Wilma Chan said in a press statement that controversy surrounding EDFUND\’s practices has prompted an audit. The audit will make sure that students are receiving the maximum amount of money for school. Articles by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee reported that EDFUND padded its cost of doing business, paid excessive salaries and bonuses and rarely pursued competitive bids for contracts. Such actions could be diverting funds from students, according to CALPIRG. \”This audit will ensure that these agencies are acting in the best interest of not only the public they serve, but also the thousands of low-income students who depend on Cal Grants to get the education they deserve,\” said State Sen. Deborah Ortiz in a press statement. Ortiz helped create the state law which entitles all qualified students to receive Cal Grants.
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