Today Governor Jerry Brown introduced his proposal for the 2013-14 state budget. His proposal outlines laudable and critical goals for higher education: making the state’s public colleges more affordable; increasing the number of Californians who complete a degree or certificate; decreasing the time it takes to get through school; and improving transfer rates. Importantly, he proposes no policy changes to the Cal Grant program, which serves hundreds of thousands of California students. However, as described in the budget summary, some of the policies he proposes may be at odds with his stated goals.
For instance, the Governor proposes limiting the number of units for which students can receive a state General Fund subsidy (either through appropriations to colleges or financial aid), beginning in 2013-14. Students should be able to take appropriate courses and earn degrees in a timely fashion, and there needs to be a shared responsibility for doing so. But in the Governor’s proposed budget, the responsibility appears to fall primarily on students, and the details on what will be expected of colleges are much less clear. And if the proposal were to be applied retroactively, to students continuing in 2013-14 rather than those newly enrolling for 2013-14, it would only serve to further penalize the many students who have been stalled by widespread college capacity problems.
Similarly, there are merits to requiring a federal aid application for California community college (CCC) students seeking Board of Governor (BOG) fee waivers, particularly with the availability of the state Dream Act application (which we presume would count under this proposal). Unfortunately, the CCC financial aid offices that administer this program are woefully underfunded, so much so that federal and state aid is being left on the table. Without providing additional resources for colleges to support students’ FAFSA completion, fewer students will likely receive BOG waivers – simply because the FAFSA presents a significant hurdle, and one that CCC financial aid offices are not adequately funded to address.
We urge the Legislature to address these potential pitfalls in the coming months by focusing on the goals outlined by the Governor, and ensuring that policies enacted do not have such unintended consequences for students.