Archive for July 13th, 2009

The California Student Aid Commission runs CalGrants.org, a great website that offers financial aid and grant information about, well, California Grants! Funded by the State of California, this type of college grant awards up to $9,700 a year* to pay for tuition, student housing, and books at any California community college, Cal State University, University of California, private college, and most career technical or vocational schools. Oh, and did I mention that this is free money that you don’t have to pay back?

There are a few available Cal Grants that you can apply for:

  • Cal Grant A – you may use this entitlement award for college or school tuition fees for public or private colleges and also for some private career colleges.
  • Cal Grant B – this entitlement award helps low-income students, by providing a living allowance as well as grants for school or college.
  • Cal Grant C – this entitlement award helps students in paying the tuition and training costs at career colleges.

As with most scholarships or education grants, there are some academic and income requirements. Awards are given primarily to high school seniors and recent graduates, but for older students who have been out of high school for long time, there is an opportunity for you to get your hands on some of this money, too. If your GPA is unavailable you must submit a recent SAT, ACT, or GED test score instead.

If you want some assistance in applying for your Cal Grant, find a Cash for College workshop in your area. Each winter, financial aid experts team up to offer Cash for College workshops throughout the state where students can get help in filling out the FAFSA and GPA Verification forms. The mission is to help low-income and first-generation college students complete the application process so that they have the financial means to pursue higher education. While you’re there, ask them about the Cash for College Performance Based Scholarship that you might be eligible for.

*The fine print: in the last month or so, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed some budget revisions that could affect the Cal Grant program, and unfortunately, I’m not talking about an increase in award money. Awards will be subject to approval of the final 2009-10 state budget, so keep yourself informed by checking in with the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend.

**Update (08/03/09): The California Student Aid Commission informed California State University campuses on July 31st that Cal Grant awards will be adjusted to cover the CSU’s recent student fee increase of $672 per year. For more information, click here.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, the new addition to the military tuition assistance programs offered by the Veterans Affairs Department, officially kicks in on August 1st. The new GI Bill offers a timely alternative to job-hunting in a rocky economy: use your military tuition assistance benefits to go back to school instead.

USAToday: New GI Bill Could Open Education Doors for More Vets

The American Council on Education provides a “plain language Q&A” of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which will pay up to 100% tuition and fees at any state-operated college or university for veterans with at least 90 days of active military duty since 9/11/2001. The new GI Bill also provides a monthly housing stipend and up to $1,000 a year for books and school supplies. If you have to move to be near your campus, the bill gives you a one-time stipend for those costs, or, if you enroll in an accredited distance learning program, that’s also covered by this military tuition assistance plan.

Eligible service members honorably discharged with 36 or more months of active duty will get 100% of the Post-9/11 Bill’s benefits; those with less than 36 months of active service get a prorated percentage. The benefits increase with your amount of active service.

One of the appeals of the new GI Bill is the transferability of military tuition assistance benefits to your spouse or children, an option long desired by service members. A June Stars and Stripes article provides an overview of the transferability process so far.

Another appeal of the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the opportunity to attend a private college, regardless of cost. Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Program, participating private universities will waive or offset up to 50% of whatever their tuition is above the highest state-operated tuition, and VA will match that same amount. For example, if the tuition bill at a participating Yellow Ribbon university is $30,000 and the Post-9/11 GI Bill will only cover $15,000 (the highest public university in-state undergraduate tuition), the university and VA will split the $15,000 difference.

A new feature that may have temporarily backfired is the extension of GI Bill benefits to National Guardsmen and reservists. Extending benefits to Guardsmen and reservists with at least 90 days of active service was another long overdue policy change, but one loophole got by: it applies only to Guardsmen and reservists who served overseas. This oversight will no doubt be rectified at some point, but probably not this year.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill does not replace the Montgomery GI Bill, it is an alternative program offering a different arrangement for dispensing tuition assistance funding. The primary difference between the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill is that the first provides a consistent monthly stipend intended to cover all your living and school costs (including tuition and books) and the second provides you with separate payments for tuition and fees, housing, and books. The Post-9/11 GI Bill gives you 15 years to use up your benefits; the MGIB, only 10 years.

While the post-9/11 GI Bill has some welcome new features, it may not be right for everyone. You’ll have to evaluate the benefits offered in each GI Bill program and decide which plan offers you the greatest advantages and the most money. But whether you stick with the Montgomery GI Bill or transfer to the Post-9/11 GI Bill program, this is a good time to make sure you’ve done everything you need to do to maximize your military assistance benefits. After the sacrifices you and your family have made for your country, you deserve the lifelong advantages that evolve through higher education.

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