Cal Grants

Statement of Debbie Cochrane Program Director, The Institute for College Access & Success  

We are saddened to see more than $300 million in Cal Grant cuts in the 2012-13 budget proposal released by California Governor Jerry Brown earlier today. Cal Grants are a crucial lifeline for hundreds of thousands of California students who couldn’t afford to attend or complete college without them.

Some of these cuts take a common sense approach to increasing accountability for all types of schools and preserving affordability at the state’s public colleges. For instance, prohibiting state grant dollars from subsidizing students’ attendance at colleges where more than one in four student loan borrowers default on their loans is smart policy in any budget climate. Also, the Governor’s proposal would maintain maximum award levels at all public colleges, where the vast majority of students in the state are enrolled.

However, some of the cuts would fundamentally transform the program from a true engine of opportunity for students who need a hand to a reward for those already much more likely to attend and complete college.  In particular, the Governor would dramatically increase the required grade point average for Cal Grant B awards from 2.0 to 2.75. These grants go primarily to low-income students at community colleges. This change would pull the rug out from under the underrepresented students whose college success is central to our state’s economic recovery. This is a dramatic cut to student eligibility, and one that would happen so suddenly that students who have long counted on a Cal Grant would instead find themselves empty handed.

We will continue to analyze the effects of these and other Cal Grant proposals on students as budget negotiations continue in the coming months.

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In California and nationally, very few former foster youth make it to or through college, and cost is a major obstacle. A new report shows that despite federal and state programs and policies intended to help them afford college, surprisingly few California foster youth who apply for student aid receive all the grants they should.

Together, federal Pell Grants, state Cal Grants, and jointly funded Chafee Grants can add up to almost $12,000 for a foster youth at a California community college, $16,000 at a California State University, and more than $20,000 at a University of California campus. Of identifiable California foster youth who filled out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) in 2008-09, 84 percent were eligible for a Pell Grant, 17 percent were offered a Cal Grant, and just nine percent received a Chafee Grant, which is specifically for foster youth. Only four percent of these very low-income students received all three grants.

Our report, Hopes & Hurdles: California Foster Youth and College Financial Aid, examines the reasons behind this trend, from a lack of awareness about financial aid options to barriers within the aid programs themselves that pose particular challenges for foster youth. “The financial aid system isn’t working for foster youth,” said Debbie Cochrane, the report’s lead author and program director at the Institute for College Access & Success. “These students have beaten the odds to go to college, but not being able to get the grants they need puts their future in jeopardy.”

Early deadlines and GPA requirements make it harder for foster youth to get Cal Grants. Due to instability in their home and academic lives, these students are less likely to make college plans and apply for financial aid by the program’s March 2 deadline. In addition, many have attended multiple high schools, which must quickly cooperate to calculate a student’s GPA. Funding for Chafee Grants is so limited that fewer than half of the eligible applicants receive one. Also, Chafee Grants often arrive so late in the semester that students may have already fallen behind in classes or dropped out because they could not afford to buy books or pay their rent.

“Life in the child welfare system creates serious hurdles for foster youth who want to go to college, and problems with the way essential programs like Cal Grants and Chafee Grants operate can put higher education even farther out of reach,” said Cochrane.

The report recommends guaranteeing Cal Grants for foster youth; increasing cooperation between counties, the California Department of Social Services, and the California Student Aid Commission; extending foster care supports to age 21; and improving the funding and administration of Chafee Grants.

Read the report

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