The 2015-16 California budget agreement announced today includes much needed and long-overdue increases to need-based state financial aid.
First, the agreement includes the first-ever increase to the number of competitive Cal Grants, which TICAS and 17 other organizations called one of the “most effective financial aid investments the state can make.” Competitive grants are available to students more than one year out of high school, but there are currently 17 eligible applicants for every grant. The budget agreement increases the number of grants by nearly 15%, from 22,500 to 25,750. While the overwhelming majority of competitive grant applicants will continue to be turned away even with this increase, it is an enormously important step that will help make college more affordable for thousands of additional students.
The agreement also includes $39 million in financial aid for full-time community college students, to be distributed as supplements to the Cal Grant B access awards which help students cover non-tuition costs of attendance like textbooks and transportation, and $3 million in administrative funds for community college financial aid offices. The creation of these supplemental awards, an idea championed by the Assembly, targets necessary support to the students who most need to limit their work hours to study, and at the colleges where state and institutional grant aid is particularly scarce. In 2012-13, community colleges enrolled almost two-thirds of the state’s undergraduate students yet received just 6% of Cal Grant dollars. With the purchasing power of the Cal Grant B access award having fallen to just one-quarter of its original value ($1,656 in 2015-16 compared to an original grant value of over $6,000 in 2015 dollars), these stipends will help make up some of the difference for full-time community college students.
While these changes alone aren’t going to solve the state’s affordability challenges, they are hugely important steps in the right direction. The same is true about agreed-upon changes to the state’s Middle Class Scholarship program, including the imposition of time limits and asset ceilings, which begin to bring the program more in line with Cal Grants. We thank the Legislature and Governor for recognizing the importance of investing in need-based financial aid, and look forward to working with them to build on these investments in the coming year.