Today the California State Legislature and Governor Newsom reached agreement on a 2021-22 state budget that includes historic investments in state need-based financial aid that TICAS and other advocates have long championed. The budget allocates more than $150 million to create a new financial aid guarantee that ensures low-income community college students have access to the Cal Grant program, and establishes an affordability framework for students at California’s public universities. These actions, along with other critical investments – including additional resources to support California’s higher education segments, a more robust Cal Grant award for former foster youth, and funding for the Cradle-to-Career statewide longitudinal data system – represent a significant leap toward closing equity gaps and supporting college attainment for vulnerable Californians, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
“Over the past decade we have documented how long-time Cal Grant program eligibility restrictions have prevented hundreds of thousands of low-income students – most of them attending community colleges – from receiving an entitlement award, most commonly because of their age and the amount of time since graduating high school,” said Laura Szabo-Kubitz, TICAS’ California Affordability Program Director. “The investments and policy changes included in the Budget Act substantially increase access to entitlement Cal Grants for students at community colleges, which serve two-thirds of California’s college students, including the majority of the state’s low-income students and students of color.”
As underscored by long-time TICAS organizational partner Debbie Raucher, Education Director for John Burton Advocates for Youth, “The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated ongoing college affordability struggles and disproportionately impacted some of California’s most under-resourced students, including those who attend community colleges, and who are low-income and students of color. This momentous investment in Cal Grant entitlement awards for community college students is a huge step towards achieving higher education equity for underserved Californians and will help ensure a more equitable recovery as we emerge from a devastating period that put persistent college affordability challenges into starker relief.”
“By 2024, ‘middle-skill’ jobs such as those in the health care and manufacturing industries are expected to account for about 43 percent of job openings in California,” added Zima Creason, executive director of the California EDGE Coalition. “This historic investment in Cal Grant entitlement awards for community college students is key to addressing critical workforce development priorities by supporting Californians on their educational paths to upskilling and earning the credentials they need to contribute to, and benefit from, a robust state economy.”
“California is projected to need an additional 2.4 million residents with college degrees by 2025,” noted Su Jin Jez, executive director of California Competes. “With 6.8 million Californians aged 25-54 with a high school diploma but no college degree – including 71% of Latinx Californians and 61% of Black Californians – these structural changes to California’s financial aid programs will significantly improve college accessibility and attainment for older students and students of color. We applaud state leadership for including this significant investment in students.”
Recognizing that students across our public postsecondary education segments face serious affordability challenges due to insufficient financial aid, the budget agreement invests an additional $515 million to establish an affordability framework for baccalaureate students at California’s public universities. This proposal would move California one step closer to a meaningful affordability guarantee, and contains provisions that align with recommendations from TICAS and several partners, including that financial aid awards be based on the total cost of attendance, instead of tuition alone, and that students not be expected to work more than 15 hours per week during the academic year. We look forward to future opportunities to work with the Governor and Legislature on fine-tuning this program to ensure that it serves all public higher education students equitably, by including students who attend community colleges and prioritizing funding for the least-resourced students.
We are incredibly grateful to the Legislature and Governor Newsom for securing these provisions in the 2021-22 state Budget Act, and specifically to the leadership of Assemblymember McCarty, Assemblymember Medina, Senator Laird and Senator Leyva, who were vital in advancing an equitable financial aid reform framework. As so many Californians struggle to recover from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which have disproportionately negatively impacted community college, low-income, and students of color, this action will provide hundreds of thousands more Californians with the critical financial aid necessary to support their basic needs and ensure they can excel on their paths towards a higher education credential.