California Budget Gridlock Jeopardizes Student Aid

By Deborah Frankle, Research Analyst The budget stalemate in Sacramento is about to have serious repercussions for new and returning college students in California. Approximately 266,000 students are expected to receive Cal Grants to help cover fees, books, dorm costs and other expenses, but the agency that administers the Cal Grant will not have the funds for the scholarships until--unless--the state budget is approved. And with classes starting in the next couple weeks, it looks unlikely that this will happen in time to help students with initial college expenses. We contacted several financial aid offices throughout the state to see how colleges were handling this, and it appears that the approaches vary in the different segments. At the University of California and some campuses in the California State University system, the colleges are dipping into other resources to front the aid with no discernable difference to students, at least in the short term. At other CSUs, fees covered by Cal Grants are not an issue because the college can allow the student to pay later, when the Cal Grant money arrives. However, the $1,551 that helps pay for textbooks, room and board, and other educational costs will not be dispersed. And it looks like community college recipients, whose only state grant funds come from the books-and-rent portion of Cal Grant B, won’t be receiving any Cal Grant money anytime soon. These Cal Grant B recipients will then be most affected by the budget crisis, and three out of four of them attend a community college (45% of all Cal Grant Bs) or a CSU (29%) – the systems with the least resources to help tide students over until grant money arrives. We estimate that as many as 137,000 students in these two segments alone may be impacted by this situation. Recent high school graduates in this population have an average family income of $20,573 for a family of 4. Older Cal Grant B recipients are even needier, with an average family income of $14,322 for a family of 3. These are not students who can simply make ends meet without the grants designed to help make college accessible to them. At best, the inability to purchase required textbooks and supplies early in the term means that students will be unable to keep up in class; at worst, they may drop out of college without having had a fighting chance to succeed. Our students deserve better.

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