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Need Financial Aid? Kentucky Students Should Apply Soon.

Kentucky's higher education officials are urging students preparing to enter college this fall—or who are already enrolled—to turn in financial aid documents soon after the opening period begins Jan. 1.

“If someone is on the fence a little bit about where they want to go or what they want to do, if they don’t apply until March, it’s too late," said Erin Klarer of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, the state agency that oversees Kentucky’s financial aid.

Klarer doesn't discourage students to continue applying past a certain date (federal grants are still available) but the state's need-based financial aid is on a first-come, first serve basis, which means many students won’t get money they’re eligible for.

Last year, KHEAA ran out of funds in early February, she said.

“We’ve seen it running out earlier and earlier," she said.

The state legislature did not grant KHEAA with millions of dollars more it requested when the biennium budget was set earlier this year.

Klarer said her agency asked for $83 million for this current fiscal year, but the state awarded it less than $60 million. KHEAA will be equally short funds in the next fiscal year, too.

In fiscal year 2014, 39,752 students received $62.3 million in CAP grants and 11,643 students received $30 million in KTG grants.

The state has also not met its legal obligation to award the agency a certain percentage of Kentucky’s Lottery money for several years. That money is used to plug other holes in the budget.

So, tens of thousands of eligible students miss out on key financial aid that would help them pay costly college bills.

Kentucky's merit-based scholarship money, known as the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, is not impacted. But the state's two needs-based grants, known as the College Access Program and Kentucky Tuition Grant, are.

In 2013, 38,368 students received $57.3 million in CAP funding and 76,200 eligible students did not receive an award. (Eligible students are those considered likely to have met the requirements for the award.)

That same year, 11,185 received $29.8 million in KTG grants and 10,100 eligible students did not, according to KHEAA data.

Meanwhile, officials have focused statewide on getting all students to fill out financial aid forms, regardless if they intend on going to college, said Klarer.