Important Steps Forward on College Affordability in California Budget Agreement

Much has already been written about higher education in the California budget agreement for 2018-19, the broad parameters of which have been public for days. Yet there are several important provisions for college affordability and financial aid in the budget trailer bill passed today that have flown under the radar and deserve to be elevated. They include the following:

  • Full-time Cal Grant recipients at community colleges will see an increase to their financial aid awards. In his January budget proposal, the Governor proposed consolidating two community college financial aid programs into one, and to increase funding for the consolidated program. We had some suggestions on how to do it in a way that better addressed both students’ and colleges’ needs. The proposal adopted by the Legislature reflects many of our recommendations, including making the grants easier for students to receive, making the program easier for colleges to administer (and providing some administrative funding as well), and better supporting students in summer terms. Importantly, under the final language, all full-time community college Cal Grant recipients will see an increase to their awards. These changes will enable many community college students to spend more time in class and studying, rather than working to cover total college costs, increasing their odds of graduating and graduating faster.
  • Foster youth will have an easier time getting a Cal Grant, as we have long recommended. Students who transition quickly from high school to college are entitled to receive a Cal Grant, but those who don’t face long odds to get one. For former foster youth, who face particularly challenging hurdles en route to college, insufficient support can lead to delayed enrollment which in turn affects how much financial aid they can receive. The budget agreement extends former foster youths’ entitlement to a Cal Grant by several years (until age 26), and gives those attending community college a longer window of time in which to apply.
  • A modest but important step towards greater institutional accountability for financial aid, by allowing students at nonprofit colleges to retain a larger Cal Grant award if their sector enrolls more students with Associate Degrees for Transfer from community colleges.
  • Through funding for the California College Promise (AB 19/Statutes of 2017), colleges will be able to provide even greater support to students whose financial struggles hold them back from graduating. How colleges use their California College Promise money is up to them, so long as it is used to support student success. After exploring what is holding students back, some colleges are choosing to spend their resources helping students overcome the financial barriers that non-tuition costs of college pose to student success. Whether used to provide childcare resources, transportation vouchers, or textbooks, helping financially needy students cover their non-tuition costs of college is an important way to support student success.

Higher education experts throughout the state agree that greater and more targeted investments in financial aid are needed, and we are grateful for both Governor Jerry Brown’s and the Legislature’s continued leadership and commitment to improving college affordability. The financial aid provisions in this budget agreement mark yet another step in the right direction for our state’s underserved students. Nonetheless, the severity and scale of equity gaps demands that more be done. We look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature and the next Governor to ensure that all needy Californians can afford to get to and through college.  

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