California’s budget delays are affecting college students’ ability to get their financial aid. In addition to more than 100,000 students who may face delays in getting the Cal Grants that they’ve been promised, there are 25,000 high-achieving, low-income students whose grants may or may not be funded at all. The Governor’s initial January budget proposal cut the already underfunded “competitive” Cal Grant program that serves those 25,000 students, most of whom go to community college, and its status has been uncertain ever since.
During last year’s budget crisis, some colleges were able to help students by providing the grant aid up front and getting reimbursed after a budget was signed. Others – largely the community colleges and California State Universities, where the majority of Cal Grant recipients attend – didn’t have the resources to help in this way, and students were left not knowing when they would have money to buy books.
This year, the situation is worse. It’s already late August, and students’ college plans may depend on whether or when the grant money they’re counting on will come through. The good news is that the competitive Cal Grant program is not eliminated in the Governor’s latest budget revision, released earlier this week. This is a notable shift: the California legislature has already signaled its desire and intention to maintain the program, and the Governor’s change of heart means it is likely to survive.
The bad news is that the students who need these grants still don’t have the security they need to make plans, and it’s not clear when they will. Have they put deposits down at campuses that they may not be able to attend? Have they registered for classes, not knowing how they’ll pay for them? Or have they given up their spot, missed important registration dates, or decided not to go to college? These decisions will cost California, and these Californians, a lot more than a few thousand dollars.