❌ Massive expansion to college financial aid

Butte College campus bustles between classes on February 12, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
California community colleges like Butte College will get substantially more federal aid than in March. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Mikhail Zinshteyn

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

This is a once-in-a-generation overhaul of the already generous Cal Grant, the state’s chief financial aid program. AB 1456 would add more than 100,000 community college students eligible for the grant’s $1,650 in annual support. It will also expand eligibility for about 40,000 students at four-year colleges to have their tuition partially covered at private schools and fully waived at the Cal State University and University of California. The expanded aid will be the result of loosening eligibility requirements, including getting rid of time-out-of-high-school and age restrictions plus either dropping or lowering GPA requirements. Added state cost: estimated between $85 million to $175 million a year, plus start-up cost of $58 million.

WHO SUPPORTS IT

Carried by Democratic Assemblymembers Jose Medina of Riverside and Kevin McCarty of Sacramento plus Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino. The Chancellor’s Office of the California Community College is a fan, largely because Cal Grant eligibility rules have excluded hundreds of thousands of low-income community college students

WHO’S OPPOSED

The governor’s Finance Department, citing higher costs than bill backers estimate and fears that state universities will raise tuition. Cal State has issues with it, too.

WHY IT MATTERS

This is huge, both on its own merits and how it would mesh with other major new and forthcoming financial aid overhauls. Various expansions of the Cal Grant would coincide with the Legislature’s plans to create a debt-free grant for low- and middle-class UC and Cal State students, though notably those plans would not cover community college students. Earlier this year, the state budget expanded the Cal Grant to 133,000 more community college students, costing about $235 million annually to start. For years lawmakers have tried to take big swings at enlarging the state’s college affordability programs, but cost stopped them. Now that California’s coffers are expected to overflow, lawmakers are seizing the chance to bring college affordability to hundreds of thousands of more students. Whether that commitment remains during lean times is a question.

GOVERNOR’S CALL:

Newsom vetoed the bill on Oct. 8. In his veto message, he said “this bill results in significant cost pressures to the state, likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Future changes to the financial aid system of this magnitude should be considered as a part of the annual budget process.”