Part of the state’s budget surplus should be used to invest more in California’s financial aid program to help students transferring to nonprofit independent colleges and universities.
By Kristen Soares, Special to CalMatters
Kristen Soares is president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities.
California’s historic $97.5 billion state budget surplus gives Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislators an opportunity to make unprecedented investments in higher education. The single-best investment they can make is to strengthen the Cal Grant program, the financial aid program for lower-income students.
Last year, the Legislature provided a much-needed increase in the maximum award — to $9,220 from $9,084 — after two decades of cuts. More funding is needed, especially with the ever-growing costs of housing, food, child care and transportation.
Now is the time to make investments in our students — our future leaders — and return fairness to our financial aid programs. State financial aid is crucial for the some 27,000 Cal Grant recipients attending more than 80 independent California colleges and universities.
The Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities urges the governor and legislators to:
- Increase Cal Grant support for low-income students. This will allow more students to attend colleges and fill the pipeline with the future teachers and health care workers California needs. Cal Grant recipients graduate at high rates, with little to no difference between them and students who don’t qualify for Cal Grants.
- Extend the supplemental Cal Grant entitlement awards to former and current foster-youth students and students with dependent children attending independent colleges and universities. Such an investment will immediately help some 1,700 student parents and former foster youths pursue their college education and better support them in the future. When these programs were created two years ago, they applied only to students attending public universities. This is inequitable and unfair to students attending independent colleges and universities.
- Improve regional transfer rates by extending community college students’ Cal Grant entitlement awards to include those transferring to an independent college or university. This will give low-income transfer students more local options.
- Provide an across-the-board 1.5% increase in the awards for students attending independent colleges and universities. Though modest, this increase will go a long way to support college access and success, as there is limited space at California’s public colleges and universities.
The value of these proposals is reflected in state Sen. Anthony Portantino’s Senate Bill 851, which modifies the formula for determining the amount of a Cal Grant for a student who attends a nonprofit independent institution of higher education in California. It further expands eligibility for supplemental Cal Grant programs and the Community College Entitlement program to students attending independent California colleges.
As we recover from the pandemic, California continues to strive for greater equity and more access in higher education. Our association and member colleges and universities are working toward Gov. Newsom’s 70% college degree attainment goal. These investments will help get us there.
Kristen Soares previously has written about investing in independent colleges and universities.