Coming off a historic budget season with a total of just over $300 billion committed to support Californians statewide, the 2022-23 fiscal year is officially here. This positions California to live up to its reputation as the progressive beacon on the hill by prioritizing key investments and programs that can be transformative for historically underserved groups. Amongst all the important issues that California Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature are taking on, we are grateful that the state’s leaders have prioritized postsecondary investments that center on student access and success, increasing affordability, building-out student data systems, and strengthening consumer protections.
Supporting Access and Success Programs for California’s Low-Income and BIPOC Students
To support residential undergraduate enrollment growth, the budget includes $67.9 million for the University of California (UC) and $81 million for the California State University (CSU). This investment will allow the UC to grow their enrollment by 6,230 full-time students through 2023-24 and the CSU to grow their enrollment by 9,434 full-time students in the 2022-23 year. Similarly, the California Community Colleges (CCC) will receive $150 million in one-time funds to continue supporting strategies to increase student enrollment and retention rates, specifically for marginalized student groups. While these funds are very much welcome, California needs to pair this with an equitable ecosystem that prepares and supports students – particularly those who are low-income, BIPOC, or from other historically underserved populations – to get into and through college.
To build up this equitable ecosystem the Governor and Legislature are funding critical programs that actively work to engage, prepare, and embrace students from diverse backgrounds. Specifically, the CCCs will receive an ongoing $129.7 million in investments for key programs such as Mathematics, Engineering, Science, and Achievement Program (MESA), Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS), the Puente Project, and the Umoja program. These programs are designed to be culturally affirming, provide a supportive and stimulating environment to build confidence, and provides academic enrichment to students who are underrepresented in higher education. The UC also received a long overdue $22.5 million ongoing investment in the Student Academic Preparation and Educational Partnership (SAPEP) Program. This program was created after the passage of Prop. 209 in 1996, which prohibited affirmative action, as a way for the Legislature to strengthen the UC’s academic preparation programs to increase access for educationally disadvantaged students, promote diversity, and close opportunity and achievement gaps between groups of students – particularly those who are first-generation, low-income, and English-language learners. Additionally, we are thrilled to see a $64 million investment to help CCCs and their faculty implement remedial education reforms that passed in 2017 via AB 705. Our report earlier this year examined why this is needed and what the consequences of remedial education are, such as excessive unit accumulation, longer times to completion, increased cost of attendance, and higher levels of student debt.
Increasing College Affordability Now and Into the Future
The Governor and Legislature took a great step by opening enrollment slots and helping prepare more students to get to college, but once again this needs to be paired with a commitment to get students through college affordably without having to work or borrow excessively. This is especially true now during a time of record-high inflation and rising costs on everything from food and housing to transportation. To help address college affordability challenges, the final budget includes a $200 million increase to the Community College Student Success Completion Grant. This grant provides CCC students with additional financial aid to help offset the non-tuition costs of college attendance, which comprise over 90 percent of CCC students’ total college costs, to support full-time attendance and successful on-time completion.
Additionally, as we have long advocated, the state Cal Grant is the cornerstone of college affordability in California but structural flaws have kept too many under-resourced students from accessing this crucial form of financial aid. Building off last year’s budget which created the CCC Expanded Entitlement Program, this year Governor Newsom and the Legislature embraced and codified additional equitable changes to the program through the Cal Grant Reform Act. This includes streamlining the current Cal Grant program into a Cal Grant 2, for community college students, and Cal Grant 4, for students at four-year institutions, removing the one-year limit on time out of high school for students attending a CSU or UC and eliminating GPA verification for CCC students, and employing an ongoing cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the Cal Grant access award. The California Student Aid Commission was awarded $500,000 to start planning for the changes, but the larger systemic changes were not funded in this budget and will only be enacted if funding is available in 2024. While this year’s budget is an endorsement of policy that could support many more Californians in accessing a Cal Grant, it is a promise that needs to be kept as well as a critical reminder for California’s leaders that Californians face burdensome college cost burdens.
Remaining Committed to Data Transparency and Accountability
We are excited to see that the Governor and Legislature continue to be committed to building out California’s Cradle-to-Career (C2C) Data System through a $13.9 million re-investment to the Government Operation Agency which will house the data system. The C2C will increase intersegmental collaboration, create data-informed tools to help students reach their college and career goals, as well as deliver information on education and workforce outcomes to support more effective and equitable policies at the state, system, and college level throughout California. TICAS has long supported the C2C system and our Research Director – Dr. Marshall Anthony, Jr. – was recently appointed to the Data and Tools Advisory Board.
We are also excited that the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) will have a stable funding source over the next three years through a $23.5 million investment. The BPPE is the first line of defense for students who enroll in private postsecondary programs and the primary state-level regulator of private colleges and institutions in California. This investment will give BPPE the financial support it needs while it develops and implements a new and sustainable fee model.
This historic budget has given us a lot to be excited about and holds great potential to move the needle on equitable college access and success, student-centered affordability, and college accountability. But this does not mean the work ends here and that advocates, students, and other stakeholders can take their feet off the accelerator. We still have work to do as we fight to support low-income, BIPOC, and other historically underserved California students’ success in the college classroom and beyond.