Parent-students at private colleges should have equal access to CalGrants

By Kristen Soares, Special to CalMatters

Editor’s note: This commentary is in response to the following story: ”California’s latest undergrad project? More aid for campus moms and dads” Sept. 29, 2019.

On behalf of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, which represents over 80 nonprofit colleges and universities that collectively educate 190,000 undergraduates in California, I wholeheartedly agree that the state’s financial aid system should be modernized to better serve the students. 

It should be less complex for students and their families, it should be communicated clearly, and it should better serve today’s student population.

As noted by California Student Aid Commission representative David O’Brien, students with children “are increasingly becoming the norm.” 

The story appropriately highlighted the fact that our notion of traditional college students is changing. This has implications for California’s higher education ecosystem, particularly as the state and policymakers consider how to address the projected 1.1 million shortfall of college graduates by 2030, based on Public Policy Institute of California projections. 

If we are to meet the economic and workforce demands of tomorrow, we must ensure that our policies meet the needs of this changing college student population. 

It may surprise some to learn that Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities institutions serve many of these students.

Since 2012, California’s nonprofit colleges and universities have conferred 65,000 bachelor’s degrees to students 25 or older, and over 14,500 of those were conferred to students over 40. The annual number of degrees conferred to these students has increased 15.6% in just six academic years. 

Within our sector, we educated approximately 1,600 Cal Grant student parents last year, many of whom are attending institutions in the Central Valley and Inland Empire.

By any of these measures, the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities institutions are educating more adult learners or student parent Cal Grant recipients than the University of California. Yet our sector is frequently overlooked when considering how to better serve these student populations. 

For example, Cal Grant student parents attending our institutions were not included in the final budget item, despite the fact that they have comparable average family incomes. These student parents, facing the same challenges and aspiring toward the same goals, deserve the same support from the state as their counterparts at public universities.

The Cal Grant program is the most generous state aid program in the nation, and the additional investments made this year by the governor and the legislature should be celebrated.

It is critical that future investments in and changes to the state’s Cal Grant program adhere to the goals of decreased complexity, clear and simple communication, and that they meet the needs of today’s student population, regardless of whether they attend an independent nonprofit college or university, or one of our public institutions of higher education.

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Kristen Soares is president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, [email protected]. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters

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