California Governor Jerry Brown’s budget proposal for 2018-19, the first step in crafting the state’s budget, was packed with higher education proposals addressing a wide range of issues affecting both colleges and students. In particular, his proposals to create a new, fully online community college and to change the way community colleges are funded have captured national attention. But his proposal to reform community college student financial aid has gotten less attention despite its potential to better support students in their efforts to get to and through college.
Specifically, Governor Brown proposed streamlining two community college financial aid programs (the Full-Time Student Success Grant (FTSSG) and the Community College Completion Grant (CCCG)) and increasing their combined funding by $33 million. With both designed to increase the amount of financial aid available to full-time students who receive state Cal Grants, the Governor’s proposal rightly notes that these programs “target the same socioeconomic student cohort and encourage the timely completion of a degree or certificate,” yet have different requirements which add complexity for both students and schools. We commend the Governor for recommending consolidating these programs into a single grant that “encourages students to take a full course load while recognizing that is not feasible for all students.” However, we believe this goal would be better achieved through an alternate consolidation approach, outlined here, that would result in a simpler and more equitable financial aid program that better recognizes student realities.
Notably, these aren’t the only funds which hold promise for supporting community college affordability. The Governor’s budget also includes funding for AB 19 (chaptered in 2017), a bill that provided colleges that embrace student-focused reforms with additional resources to help students succeed and close equity gaps. Exactly how the funds are used is at colleges’ discretion: for example, the President and CEO of Mt. San Antonio College, Dr. William T. Scroggins, explored the needs of his students and plans to use his colleges’ allocation to help cover students’ unmet financial need, and provide emergency grants and loans to help students pay for food, housing, child care, and transportation.
Finally, while not referenced in the Governor’s budget proposal, it’s important to note that last year’s budget directed the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) to explore ways to “consolidate existing programs that serve similar student populations in order to lower students’ total cost of college attendance,” and that this work has been expected to inform budget conversations for the 2018-19 year. CSAC contracted with The Century Foundation (TCF) to consider options, which were presented to and considered by CSAC earlier this week. The full report — which recommends the state provide increased support for students’ non-tuition costs of college, and community college students in particular — underscores many of the same concerns we heard earlier this year from a diverse slate of higher education experts, and proposes a thoughtful path forward. While many of the details of TCF’s proposal require further discussion, CSAC will be asking that the Legislature use the 2018-19 budget process to build off of the TCF proposal by taking some immediate steps forward, including funding an increase to the Cal Grant B access award. This award, which helps low-income Californians pay for non-tuition costs of college, currently holds less than a quarter of its original purchasing power, and TICAS is joined by more than 20 organizations in supporting this recommendation.
The state has taken substantial steps to improve college affordability in recent budget years, speaking to the extent to which both the Legislature and Governor recognize the importance of this issue to Californians. We look forward to working together to ensure the 2018-19 budget moves us even closer to a California where the promise of an affordable college education is better, and more equitably, realized.