Competitive Cal Grants

The 2015-16 California budget agreement announced today includes much needed and long-overdue increases to need-based state financial aid.

First, the agreement includes the first-ever increase to the number of competitive Cal Grants, which TICAS and 17 other organizations called one of the “most effective financial aid investments the state can make." Competitive grants are available to students more than one year out of high school, but there are currently 17 eligible applicants for every grant. The budget agreement increases the number of grants by nearly 15%, from 22,500 to 25,750. While the overwhelming majority of competitive grant applicants will continue to be turned away even with this increase, it is an enormously important step that will help make college more affordable for thousands of additional students.

The agreement also includes $39 million in financial aid for full-time community college students, to be distributed as supplements to the Cal Grant B access awards which help students cover non-tuition costs of attendance like textbooks and transportation, and $3 million in administrative funds for community college financial aid offices. The creation of these supplemental awards, an idea championed by the Assembly, targets necessary support to the students who most need to limit their work hours to study, and at the colleges where state and institutional grant aid is particularly scarce. In 2012-13, community colleges enrolled almost two-thirds of the state’s undergraduate students yet received just 6% of Cal Grant dollars. With the purchasing power of the Cal Grant B access award having fallen to just one-quarter of its original value ($1,656 in 2015-16 compared to an original grant value of over $6,000 in 2015 dollars), these stipends will help make up some of the difference for full-time community college students.

While these changes alone aren’t going to solve the state’s affordability challenges, they are hugely important steps in the right direction. The same is true about agreed-upon changes to the state’s Middle Class Scholarship program, including the imposition of time limits and asset ceilings, which begin to bring the program more in line with Cal Grants. We thank the Legislature and Governor for recognizing the importance of investing in need-based financial aid, and look forward to working with them to build on these investments in the coming year.

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We commend the California State Legislature for taking another significant step towards improving college affordability by strengthening financial aid for low-income Californians at all types of colleges. The Conference Committee on the Budget agreed earlier this week to increase the number of annually authorized competitive Cal Grants, the grants available to students who do not enroll in college straight after high school, to 38,750 (up from 22,500). It also agreed to increase the size of the Cal Grant B access award, which helps low-income students pay for non-tuition costs, to $1,804 (up from an expected $1,656 in 2015-16), as well as to extend prior legislation that would provide for more increases in future years. The Committee also approved a plan to use Proposition 98 funds to further strengthen financial aid at California’s community colleges in particular, which serve the vast majority of the state’s low-income, Latino, and African-American students. Together, these actions provide a clear mandate for the most effective financial aid investments the state can make to promote access, affordability, and success for students who need help the most.

California needs 2.3 million college graduates beyond current projections by 2025 to remain competitive, so deepening the financial aid investments that make college possible for so many is critical. Yet on key indicators, the state is falling increasingly behind: with only one grant for every seventeen eligible applicants, a competitive Cal Grant applicant could drive to Las Vegas and be more likely to win money for college by gambling than be offered a grant.

The Legislature has spoken loudly and clearly that strengthening competitive Cal Grants and the Cal Grant B access award are priorities for budget spending. We urge the Governor to do the same by approving these actions in the 2015-16 state budget. 

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California college students who meet Cal Grant eligibility requirements are guaranteed a Cal Grant if they’re recent high school graduates who meet the application deadline. But students who apply for a grant more than one year after finishing high school or who miss the application deadline face a starkly different reality. Just 22,500 Cal Grants for these students – called “competitive” Cal Grants – are authorized each year. And for 2013-14, there were 16 eligible applicants for every authorized award.

In other words, an eligible applicant’s chance of receiving a competitive Cal Grant is about 6 percent. Wondering how that stacks up against other notoriously long odds? We did some digging and found that it’s tougher for an eligible student to earn a competitive Cal Grant than:

• for a gambler to win in a Las Vegas casino (13 percent);1 or

• for a high school senior who applies to Ivy League colleges to actually get into one (9 percent);2 or

• for a college baseball player to get drafted by a Major League team (9 percent).3

Getting financial aid shouldn’t be harder than beating the odds in Vegas, getting into the Ivy League, or making the majors. The hundreds of thousands of eligible students denied Cal Grants have an average family income below $21,000 for a family size of three, and an average GPA of 3.0. The odds confronting these students are far too long, and the losers far too deserving, for policymakers to continue accepting the status quo. Parallel efforts are underway in the California State Assembly, via this year’s budget negotiations and Assembly Bill 1976 (Quirk-Silva), to increase the number of competitive grants available and ensure that all authorized grants are actually getting to students. Putting our money on high-achieving, low-income students isn’t just a safe bet – it’s an investment with great returns for California. - Matthew La Rocque

Across all games and tables in the Clark County Downtown Las Vegas area, the average win percentage is about 12.8 percent. For slot machines, the average win percentage is about 6.7 percent. State of Nevada. State Gaming Control Board. Gaming Revenue Report. December 31, 2012. http://gaming.nv.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=7618.

Among applicants for the Class of 2018, the aggregate admissions rate across the eight Ivy League colleges was about 8.9 percent. Washington Post. March 28, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/the-ivy-league-admission-rate-8-point-something-something-percent/2014/03/28/558400de-b67e-11e3-8cc3-d4bf596577eb_story.html.

About 9.4 percent of NCAA senior male baseball players will get drafted by a Major League Baseball (MLB) team. NCAA Research. Estimated Probability of Competing in Athletics Beyond the High School Interscholastic Level. 2013. http://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/Probability-of-going-pro-methodology_Update2013.pdf.

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