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Cal Grants could be slashed

Jason D. Cox
Senior Editor

While a student at La Verne, student employment coordinator Robbyn Gibson received a Cal Grant for two years.

Since then she has taken several opportunities to express her opposition to the Governor’s proposed cuts to Cal Grants, by attending the Association of Indepen­dent California Colleges and Universities’ Student Day rallies, held in Sacramento.

Last month, Gibson joined other University of La Verne representatives at the AICCU’s Student Day.

“In my opinion, every year, legislators are for the Cal Grant program – for education in general,” Gibson said.

And yet right now, roughly 26,000 California college students wait with bated breath as the state legislature evaluates Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal – which includes a drastic cut to the Cal Grant program. This state budget must be approved or rejected before the beginning of the new fiscal year, July 1. Cuts to Cal Grants would take effect in fall 2012.

Student Day is part of the AICCU’s “Save Our Cal Grant” campaign, to protect the maximum Cal Grant award for students at private colleges and universities. The campaign educates the public and policymakers about the Cal Grant program and its effect on the academic landscape in California. The campaign’s goal is ultimately to convince the legislature to reject Gov. Brown’s proposed cuts and to restore funds to the Cal Grant program.

This year, Student Day began with a rally on the steps of the capitol building.

Following the rally, Gibson and other protestors were invited to small group meetings with various state legislators.

Gibson met with California State Assemblymen Tim Donnelly (R-Hesperia) and Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) and California State Sen. Bob Huff (R-Walnut).

One thing Gibson said she talked with the representatives about was “grandfathering” in students who have already received Cal Grants. Cutting awards to new students, while harsh would have a less devastating impact, she said.

The AICCU is a statewide body composed of private and non-private, WASC-accredited colleges and universities.

If the proposed cuts to Cal Grants succeed, students attending private schools, including the University of La Verne, will lose about half of their Cal Grant awards.

“The benefit of what the private schools do for the state is being overlooked,” University of La Verne Provost Greg Dewey said.

Dewey said a cut to the Cal Grants would not make sense on multiple levels. Cutting the maximum Cal Grant award for private colleges and universities would bring the award to about the same level as the CSUs. But an integral part of what makes the Cal Grant practical, Dewey said, is that the state saves money by funding Cal Grants for private schools. It is cheaper for the state to give a few private schools additional funding than if the state were to use the funding for its own schools.

Estrellita Guzman, a ULV freshman biology major, was excited to express her thoughts and opinions at Student Day last month.

She was a recipient of a Cal Grant awards until this year, when cuts to the program disqualified her from its benefits.

Guzman was encouraged when students had a chance to share their testimonials on stage and when students and administrators had a chance at dialogue with legislators.

“It was good seeing someone else on our side,” Guzman said. “A few of (the legislators) busted out their note pads and were surprised at the ideas that were coming from students.”

Students are not the only ones making themselves heard on this issue. AICCU has had press conferences and other assemblies to share their thoughts and express their disapproval to Gov. Brown.

Since 1955 Cal Grants, then known as the California State Scholarship program, have helped thousands of academically-distinguished, financially-needy students pursue higher education in the state.

Aiding private universities in the state has historically helped to relieve some of the pressure on UCs and Cal States by the ever-increasing numbers of college students. With classes at state schools exceeding capacity, the state needs private universities more than ever before, Dewey said.

In its budget overview, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office cites that this proposal will cost the state more money than it will save. It also notes that the state subsidy for financially needy students attending independent nonprofit schools is significantly less than the total subsidy provided to similar students at UCs and Cal States.

It simply costs the state less to provide Cal Grant funding for private universities than public universities.

“Private university students graduate faster, and then get jobs, which then stimulates the economy,” Dewey said.

According to the AICCU, 71 percent of its Cal Grant students graduate in four years, while the four-year graduation rates for UC and CSU students are 54 percent and 18 percent respectively.

State schools are impacted and will need more funding in order to address their skyrocketing needs. A cut to the Cal Grant program would defeat its purpose, which is to help diffuse the burden on the state’s colleges and universities.

This program has been proven to give students a better chance at getting into schools from which they will graduate more quickly than if they attended a state college or university.

This 44 percent cut would change the maximum award for students attending AICCU schools from $9,708 to $5,472. This would save the state $111.5 million in 2012 and 2013. However, $111.5 million might seem trivial in the context of a state budget of around $90 billion.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” Dewey said. “We’re talking to our peers and strategizing.”

“I think it’s important that independent colleges and universities have solidarity on this.”

The University has been fortunate enough to be able to soften the blow, to some degree, for its incoming and current students.

Last year, the Cal Grants endured cuts, and ULV was able to compensate for the smaller awards by increasing financial aid packages.

This supplemented the difference between what students were originally promised and what they received. ULV was able to cover incoming freshman, current seniors, and 50 percent of the difference for sophomores and juniors.

“We’re in a tough situation,” Dewey said. “If we step up, the state will likely scrap the program.”

The University must maintain a delicate balance.

ULV administration will build two budgets for the coming fiscal year, one that incorporates the expected funding of Cal Grants and another that will anticipate the absence of that financial aid.

One difficulty of planning for two financial scenarios is ensuring maximum efficiency for both plans. The University cannot precisely predict how the budget will eventually turn out, yet it must make use of its available resources as efficiently as possible, without making plans that reach too far or not far enough.

Cuts to the Cal Grants seem more probable now than in recent years, but Dewey said that if the program is affected, the University will do what it can to reduce the impact for its students.

In addition to cutting its funding, this proposal also adjusts qualifications for the Cal Grant.

Last year, potential Cal Grant recipients were required to provide documentation of income and assets, making it increasingly difficult for students to qualify.

A new hurdle for students is the raising of the Cal Grant’s Grade Point Average requirements.

The required GPA for recipients of Cal Grant A would rise from 3.0 to 3.25 and from 2.0 to 2.75 for Cal Grant B. According to the proposal, this is meant to focus financial aid resources on students most likely to complete their degrees.

In recent years, the future of Cal Grants has looked grim, but in the end, they have been mostly left alone.

“Last year, for the first time since the early 2000s, we saw a cut in the Cal Grant program,” Diana Fuentes-Michel, executive director of the California Student Aid Division, said.

“What’s so different about the proposed cut is that, in previous cut proposals, they only applied to new students,” Fuentes-Michel said. “This year for the first time, renewal students would be cut, not just new students.”

This new complication to what has become routine peril for the Cal Grants is part of why ULV Financial Aid Director Jason Neal has been working to encourage students to defend their ability to attend private universities.

“I’ve been personally spearheading the efforts of getting the word out,” Neal said. “Because that’s who this is affecting: Cal Grant recipients.”

Neal said that one way students can affect the outcome of this proposed cut is to contact local legislators.

The next phase will play out when the governor updates his budget proposal in May. It will be then that those who have protested will see the impact they have made.

The budget must be finalized before the beginning of the new fiscal year, which starts July 1. However, in the past, the resulting budget has not been made apparent to the AICCU schools until as late as October. The ULV administration is hopeful that the results of this proposal will be revealed much sooner than that, allowing it time to plan for the futures of its students and the institution as a whole.

Jason D. Cox can be reached at jason.cox@laverne.edu.

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