In direct contrast to federal efforts to increase college access during the current recession, today Governor Schwarzenegger proposed eliminating all new Cal Grants, along with deep cuts to public university systems and other essential state programs and services. The Cal Grant program has been an integral part of California’s commitment to college access and affordability for more than 50 years. Since 2001, all qualified graduating high school students have been guaranteed a Cal Grant.

“The Governor’s alarming threat to eliminate Cal Grants sends a discouraging signal about college affordability to all Californians,” said Lauren Asher, acting president of the Institute for College Access & Success. “Students and families are counting on Cal Grants in these tough times, and the proposed cuts will wreak havoc with college plans for this fall.”

The Governor seeks to cut approximately $250 million from the state budget by:

  • Eliminating all new Cal Grants for students at both public and private colleges; and
  • Reducing the value of renewal Cal Grants for all returning University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) recipients by lowering the share of enrollment fees their grants will cover. (Renewal Cal Grant recipients at other colleges would not experience cuts.)

We estimate that more than 200,000 students statewide – over two-thirds of all current students offered Cal Grants – would lose all or part of the Cal Grant they were counting on to help pay for college this fall. These students will see their financial aid packages reduced by between $576 and $9,708. Based on our analysis, here is a snapshot of these high- achieving, financially needy students and what is at stake for them.

At least 118,300 students would lose their entire grant, worth up to $9,708, this fall: Eliminating allnew Cal Grants would deny approximately 118,300 students access to aid dollars they needed and expected for the 2009-10 academic year. These students have very low to moderate incomes, and vary greatly in age and type of college, although nearly half would have attended community colleges.

  • 26,000 students face cancelled Cal Grant A offers. A typical Cal Grant A student has a 3.45 grade point average (GPA) and a family income of $48,733.
  • 84,500 students face cancelled Cal Grant B offers. Cal Grant B students, who receive 70% of new awards and would therefore be among the hardest hit, come from much needier families. A typical Cal Grant B student earns slightly above a 3.0 GPA, and has a family income of $17,791.
  • 7,800 students face cancelled Cal Grant C offers. A typical Cal Grant C student has a 2.67 GPA and a family income of $21,859.
  • The elimination of new awards affects both young adults and older students: 88,000 new High School and Transfer Entitlement students, whose average age is between 18 and 22, would lose their grant offers, as would 30,300 new Competitive and Cal Grant C students, whose average age is between 29 and 33.
  • Eliminating new awards affects students at all types of public and private colleges, but community college students would lose the largest share – 45 percent – of new Cal Grant offers.
  • Cal Grants A and B provide four years of eligibility for students, including transfers from community colleges to four-year schools. An estimated 110,500 students would not be able to receive these new grants in 2009-10, and over four years could miss out on as much as $38,000 each in needed aid.

At least 90,000 returning students would lose part of their Cal Grant this fall: An estimated additional 90,000 UC and CSU students would see their promised renewal grants reduced by up to $600 for 2009-10, a result of the Governor’s proposal to eliminate support for fee increases.

“The loss of Cal Grants will push lower income students off the college track, delay their progress, or leave them even deeper in debt as they struggle to make ends meet. Making it harder for Californians to get the training and education they need puts our state’s troubled economy at even greater risk, now and in the future,” said Asher. The Public Policy Institute of California recently found that California needs more than a million new college-educated workers by 2025 to protect the state economy from decline.

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As July 1 (the first day the Income-Based Repayment option becomes available for borrowers) draws closer, coverage of IBR and Public Service Loan Forgiveness is ramping up.

The Institute's acting president Lauren Asher was featured in a recent USA Today article focused on IBR. An excerpt:

Starting July 1, borrowers will have a new option: a repayment program that caps monthly payments based on income. It targets borrowers who would have a hard time paying basic living expenses if they had to make standard monthly payments on their loans, says Lauren Asher, acting president for the Project on Student Debt. Under the income-based repayment program, such borrowers will never have to spend more than 15% of their discretionary income — an amount based on federal poverty guidelines — on student loan payments. Most who qualify for the program won't spend more than 10% of their income on student loans. Those whose income falls below 150% of the poverty level (see box) won't be required to make any payments, Asher says.

Read the entire article here

Additional Coverage

For more information about Income-Based Repayment visit

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The Institute for College Access & Success has updated the fact sheet "Quick Facts About Financial Aid and Community Colleges, 2007-08," where we focus on community college students who apply for financial aid and attend full time.

About one in four full-time college students in the U.S. -- 2.2 million students -- attends a community college. Of full-time community students who applied for financial aid, 80 percent did not get as much aid as they needed in 2007-08. We also found that although a relatively small percentage of community college students take out private student loans, these borrowers were much more likely than their peers at four-year institutions to miss out on cheaper federal loans.

Additional findings from the fact sheet include:

  • While community college students are more likely to receive federal Pell Grants than four-year college students because of their lower incomes, they are less like to receive state or school grants, or federal work-study.
  • Community college students are most likely to have "unmet need" after taking advantage of available sources of financial aid. For these students, the gap between what they can afford, including aid, and the full cost of college is similar to students at public four-year colleges.
  • Federal Stafford loans, which any student can qualify for regardless of income, are safer and more affordable than private loans. Relatively few community college students borrow student loans of any type, but those who do unnecessarily turn to private loans more frequently than students at other types of colleges.

Read the fact sheet here

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New federal data show that the percentage of all undergraduate students who borrowed private student loans jumped from 5 percent in 2003-04, to 14 percent in 2007-08. At proprietary (for-profit) colleges and universities, the percentage of students who took out these loans skyrocketed from 13 percent in the 2003-04 school year, to 42 percent last year.

Private student loans are typically more expensive than federal student loans, with higher, variable interest rates and far fewer options for borrowers in repayment. Even though financial aid experts agree that these loans should be used only as a last resort, one in four private student loan borrowers in 2007-08 didn’t take out any federal Stafford loans that year. Federal Stafford loans are available to almost all students, regardless of income.

“These data are troubling because private student loans are more like credit cards than financial aid, and have very little in common with federal student loans,” said Lauren Asher, Acting President of the Institute for College Access & Success, which runs the Project on Student Debt. “Too many students are missing out on federal loans and going straight to one of the riskiest borrowing options.”

Students at proprietary schools of all levels and private nonprofit four-year schools are disproportionately represented among private student loan borrowers in 2007-08. Only about 13 percent of all undergraduates attend nonprofit four-year schools, but they make up 22 percent of all private loan borrowers. About 9 percent of undergraduates attend proprietary schools, but they represent 27 percent of private loan borrowers.

These data reflect borrowing levels before the credit crunch, which hit the private student loan industry hard in the spring of 2008. Still, lenders aggressively market private loans directly to students, and although private loans are more likely now to require a co-signer and a higher credit score, these loans are still available, especially from large banks.

“Unfortunately, private loan borrowers remain at the mercy of their lenders if they are having trouble making payments in these tough times,” said Asher. The Project on Student Debt supports stronger consumer protections for private loans, such as clearer disclosure of terms for prospective borrowers and fair treatment of this risky debt in bankruptcy, positions outlined in their 2009 Policy Agenda.

The figures in this release were calculated by the Project on Student Debt using data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, a federal survey of college students conducted every four years by the National Center for Education Statistics that was released last week. The data reflect borrowing activity by undergraduate students who are US citizens or permanent residents, during one academic year at all types of postsecondary institutions. The data should not be confused with cumulative figures for graduating seniors, which will not be released until next month. The Project on Student Debt will calculate and release more facts about student debt at that time.

Click here for quick facts about private borrowing

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The Project on Student Debt has created a Facebook group, which we're using to promote the Income-Based Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs. Income-Based Repayment becomes available on July 1, so we’re spreading the word about this new federal program and IBRinfo in every way we can. The Project's Facebook group is not only a way to raise awareness about our work, but a forum for borrowers to ask questions about their student loan debt or share their stories. Join us on Facebook Visit and tell your friends

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The Institute for College Access & Success' acting president Lauren Asher appears on CNN's American Morning.

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Statement of Deborah Frankle Cochrane Program Director, The Institute for College Access & Success

After months of arduous budget negotiations, the California legislature today passed an 18-month budget that maintains the state’s investment in student aid. This budget protects Cal Grants from attempts to cut both eligibility and grant levels, which would have had a devastating impact on California students. Cal Grants are the state’s primary source of financial aid and helped 300,000 students pay for college last year. This move comes just days after President Obama signed the federal economic stimulus package into law, which includes the largest Pell Grant increase in the program’s history. Together, these commitments to college affordability will help Californians get the education and skills they need to help our state stay economically competitive in these difficult times.

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It's a new year with a new administration in Washington, and the dire economic situation has made college affordability a top concern for policymakers and consumers alike. Our new policy agenda for 2009 aims to limit the growth and risks of student debt by increasing grant aid, strengthening consumer protections, and ensuring easy access to new affordable repayment options.

The Project on Student Debt's current priorities include:

  • Increase access to need-based grant aid
  • Strengthen consumer protections for private student loan borrowers
  • Ensure easy access to Income-Based Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Read the policy agenda in its entirety here

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