Governor’s Approval Needed for Enhanced Cal Grant Access for Students Facing Financial Challenges

What significance does a Cal Grant hold for students commencing their college endeavors? To students like me, it represents a unique opportunity to navigate the realms of academia and pursue ambitions that were once clouded in uncertainty due to financial constraints.

Brought up in a first-generation household where the idea of higher education was valued but financially challenging, the prospect of attending college initially seemed unattainable for me. When my parents discussed college, they conveyed that despite their wish for me to focus solely on studies, it was financially prohibitive. Immigrating at 16 from a small Zapotec town in Oaxaca, Mexico, my parents, a fry cook and a house cleaner, struggle to cover their own expenses, contributing only $20 every two weeks towards my education.

Being eligible for a Cal Grant transformed the narrative of college into a tangible reality.

Regrettably, my circumstances are not isolated. Working in the financial aid office, where I field inquiries about Cal Grant eligibility, I’ve encountered numerous students in similar dilemmas articulating their struggles. Many callers seek aid for steep tuition, housing, and basic needs like food. Some students, although their parents’ income exceeds the threshold for financial aid, still find it challenging to afford tuition and accommodation, leading them to work full time, resulting in missed classes and lower grades. There were instances where, after outlining the annual expenses for a student, they chose to withdraw from university due to overwhelming costs.

However, a ray of hope shines for aspiring scholars encountering financial hurdles: the Cal Grant Equity Framework, California’s initiative to reform Cal Grant to enhance higher education accessibility. Ratified in 2022, the framework comprises strategies to ensure equal grant access for all eligible students regardless of background or economic status. It simplifies aid comprehension for students and families, diminishes eligibility barriers, aims to cover total college expenses, and more.

Yet, achieving this necessitates a committed effort by California’s policymakers to deliver on their promise by funding the framework, informing students and families about this opportunity, and monitoring its lasting impacts.

On May 30, the Legislature allocated funds in the budget proposal to phase in implementing the Cal Grant Equity Framework—initiating comprehensive Cal Grant reformation. The proposal seeks to revamp and streamline the Cal Grant program to align with federal standards, introduce a cost-of-living adjustment for the new Cal Grant 2 award for community college attendees, and eliminate access barriers to the new Cal Grant 2 and Cal Grant 4 awards. While the current 2.0 GPA requirement for community college students remains, it will phase out over four years. Newly eligible Students With Dependent Children grant recipients will receive $3,000 initially, increasing to $6,000 over the same phase-out period. Existing Cal Grant and Students With Dependent Children awardees will maintain their aid throughout the reform phase-in period. Collectively, this proposal offers a cost-effective approach to launching Cal Grant reform, extending vital financial assistance to students in need.

By maintaining Cal Grant reform in the final state budget this year, California edges closer to expanding educational opportunities for an additional 137,000 students upon full implementation, extending the transformative influence of higher education to historically marginalized communities. Among these beneficiaries, 11,000 Black students and 95,000 Latino students are primed to embark on academic pursuits equipped with the requisite tools and resources to excel in an ever-evolving world.

These reforms arrive at a crucial juncture when basic needs insecurity among California students has peaked. While Cal Grants offer substantial aid, it’s crucial to acknowledge that covering tuition alone falls short of catering to many students grappling with housing insecurities and inadequate food access. Universities must leverage their institutional aid to address non-tuition expenses.

Adopting the principles outlined in the framework, California progresses towards realizing an educational system accessible and equitable for all. By confronting systemic disparities and providing robust support to underserved communities, California charts a course for a brighter, more inclusive future where the transformative potential of education is fully harnessed.

The Legislature has underscored their commitment to initiating Cal Grant reform in the 2024-25 state budget, with the final decision resting in the hands of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Governor, the responsibility now falls on you to approve the Legislature’s course of action for Cal Grant reform and the futures of myriad students.

•••

Carmen Abigail Juan Reyes is a 3rd-year Political Science, Law and Society major at the University of California, Riverside and the UC Student Association’s Fund the UC Vice Chair for the 2023-2024 academic year.

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