The currently proposed cut to the Competitive Cal Grant program would disproportionately affect community college students, who make up 73% of the program’s recipients. While the legislature has demonstrated its commitment to these students by keeping the program in their own version of the budget, its fate will remain unclear until Governor Schwarzenegger signs a budget, in late June at the earliest. Students who stand to lose their grants under the current proposal tend to be older, with lower incomes and higher GPAs than other Cal Grant recipients. As a result of their age, many are no longer eligible for the Entitlement Cal Grant which requires that one must have graduated from high school within the past year.
Over 69,000 financially eligible students applied for a Competitive Cal Grant by the March 2 deadline this year, and around 12,000 were tentatively awarded one. The California Student Aid Commission recently sent these recipients a postcard indicating that they may not receive their award due to the proposed budget cuts.
We recently heard from one Competitive Cal Grant recipient who had received this postcard but was confused about what it meant for her. After being rejected for a competitive grant last year – as five out of six eligible recipients are – this woman, a single mother of five who had previously gone on welfare to care for her child who was ill with cancer, was finally able to pursue her dream of a higher education.
But how can this hardworking, responsible woman make informed decisions about college if she doesn’t know how much aid she can expect to receive? How does she know whether to reduce her work hours, make childcare arrangements, or put down a deposit at the college she wishes to attend? All of this begs the question about the strength of the state’s commitment to higher education and helping people improve their lives and the lives of their children by increasing their education and skills. And as this woman states quite eloquently, not only will her children’s lives improve if she is able to get an education, but the state will save money if she is able to exit the welfare system.
This woman’s story clearly illustrates students’, and particularly non-traditional students’, need for timely, clear, and accurate information about financial aid to make good decisions about college-going choices. For $57 million in state savings, we’re taking this ability away from 12,000 would-be college-bound students who, as more highly educated individuals, are likely to give back to the state and their families in many ways as residents, employees, and parents. The stakes are too high to play budget roulette with California’s future.