New Cal Grant Bill Could Help Thousands of Californian Students

Image Courtesy of George Carter via Flickr

Arturo Samaniego
National Beat Reporter

Some California college students in financial need may soon receive relief if a new state Senate bill that seeks to increase the number of competitive Cal Grants becomes law.

Under the proposed Calif. Senate Bill 1471, the number of proposed competitive Cal Grant awards would increase from 25,750 to 30,000.

Michael Miller, director of UCSB’s Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, touched on the importance of the Cal Grant program and praises the bill as an important step to help Californian students afford college education.

“The Cal Grant program is vital to the success of thousands of needy Californians. In my opinion, it is the premiere state-funded financial aid program in the country,” Miller said. “I am in favor of building a robust program that covers as many students as possible and increases the income and asset ceilings so we can better serve middle income families.”

“Proactive policy changes like SB 1471 help us address the systemic barriers hundreds of thousands of Californians face as they contemplate how they can possibly afford to get to and through college,” said Lande Ajose, the executive director of California Competes. California Competes is an organization dedicated to crafting recommendations for improving Californian higher education. It is one of many organizations that supports SB 1471.

While she explained her support for SB 1471, Ajose cited a California Competes 2015 report on state higher education. The report found that the state is not on track to meet the demands of employers in need of college graduates in the years to come. The state faces a forthcoming degree and credential gap of more than two million.

Cal Grants are available for students pursuing an undergraduate degree, vocational, or career training. Unlike loans, Cal Grants do not require recipients to pay back the awarded amount and are given to students who demonstrate financial need and are low or middle income.

Currently there is a limit of 25,750 Competitive Cal Grant A and B awards given out every year. Competitive Cal Grant awards are available to students who are not awarded a Cal Grant Entitlement award due to applying late or enrolling in college more than a year after high school graduation.

SB 1471 seeks to amend Section 69437 of the Education Code relating to student financial aid, increasing the amount of Competitive Cal Grants awarded annually to 30,000.

As stated in a coalition letter of support for SB 1471, which 17 different higher education organizations signed, eligible applicants have a one in sixteen chance of being awarded a Competitive Cal Grant. California Competes and the University of California Student Association both signed the coalition letter of support. 

“Our ability to improve college attainment, close equity gaps, and enable more Californians to earn college degrees can only occur if we make college affordability for all,” stated the sponsors, in the coalition letter that supported the bill.

The bill has cleared the Senate Education Committee and is still awaiting a full vote by the Senate and the Assembly.

Cal Grants represent a large amount of financial aid many students will receive in college. During the 2016-2017 academic school year, 329,000 students received a Cal Grant and the grants comprised $1.9 billion of the state’s total spending in 2016.

With tuition increasing over the past several years, most recently in January 2017 by 2.5 percent, there have been renewed calls for more legislative action to alleviate college students’ financial burdens.

Desire for more state aid to college students is evident in the $66 Fix that proposes a 12 percent income tax surcharge to eliminate tuition at Calif. public colleges. The College for All Act also shows a demand for more financial aid as it seeks to increase the maximum Cal Grant living expense aid for working class students by 80 percent. Also, the College for All Act expands Cal Grant eligibility to more than 330,000 students.

Miller cited the recently authored AB 3153, which originated here at UCSB, as an example of efforts to provide more aid to students. Miller explained that the bill “would give students two additional quarters for eligibility if they attend summer session.”

“All of these are terrific efforts provided they don’t jeopardize other aid programs,” said Miller, about additional legislation that seeks to provide more aid to students. “We need more grant support, not the same amount directed to different areas.”

With concern about opening up the Cal Grant program to more students, Ajose said, “California has led the way on many other major policy areas in recent years from K-12 education to climate change; now it’s time for higher education to be a top priority.”