Mike Brown and his wife, Nancy, have literally helped build a new university with their generosity.
Students who could not attend La Verne without program funding have taken their fight right to the steps of the state capital.
What happens to a dream deferred? poet Langston Hughes once asked. Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Cuts to the Cal Grant program in the 2010-11 state budget California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed earlier this year threatened to defer the educational dreams of thousands of college and university students in the state, including those at the University of La Verne.
Cal Grants provide roughly one-third of the annual financial package that some 40 percent of La Verne’s students receive. If funding for Cal Grants were suspended, it would have a significant impact on the university, and on students who may wish to attend.
“I wouldn’t have been able to come to ULV without Cal Grant assistance,” said senior Robbyn Gibson, a single mother of two who also holds a job with the university as Student Employment Coordinator. Gibson and Angela Munoz, a junior at La Verne, were among several hundred students from around the state who lobbied legislators in Sacramento on March 2 in an effort to persuade them to keep Cal Grants in the budget.
“We shared our stories with them,” Munoz said. “Most of them were supportive. I think it was good for them to be able to attach a face to the issue. Before coming to ULV, I had looked at a few state schools, such as Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State Fullerton. They are good schools, but ULV really fit me. I like that it has small classes. It’s more of a community. But I wasn’t sure I could afford La Verne. My parents live paycheck-to-paycheck. They weren’t sure they could afford to send me here. I was so relieved for Cal Grant assistance. Without it, I couldn’t have come to ULV.”
The efforts of Munoz, Gibson and their fellow students on March 2 may have had an impact. Assembly Bill 2447, which is intended to help keep the Cal Grant program alive, was passed April 20 by the Assembly Committee on Higher Education.
While it is a positive step, more hurdles remain. The bill still has to be voted on by the state Assembly Committee on Appropriations at the end of May. If it passes there, it will proceed to the state Legislature. Although some educators are expressing cautious optimism, nothing is certain — especially given the country’s current economic woes.
“It’s a matter of philosophy, and where the state is willing to invest its money,” said University of La Verne Financial Aid Director Leatha Webster. “In the past, the state realized that these students are future taxpayers. We’re in dire straits, but there are other places to cut. If we want to increase the number of taxpayers we have in this state, as opposed to those who are on the dole, I don’t see any other way than to continue funding education. If you eliminate the Cal Grant program, you won’t get it back.”
“Certainly cutting Cal Grants would hurt our institutions,” said Jonathan Brown, president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities. “But, more importantly, it would hurt our students. Our main concern is not for our institutions, but for our students. That is the issue.”
Cal Grants are helpful to students attending any four-year California college or university, whether public or independent. But, according to University of La Verne President Steve Morgan, there is actually more bang for the Cal Grant buck at independent institutions.
“The strength of the Cal Grant program is that by supporting students who attend our independent colleges and universities, the State does not need to pay for costly new Cal State or U.S. campuses to accommodate these capable students because the ‘seats’ are provided by our privately funded institutions,” Morgan said. “The cost of a new Cal State or U.S. campus is at least $1 billion. This is quite a savings to taxpayers, and gives students an opportunity to choose the college or university they wish to attend from a much broader selection list.”
“The Cal Grant program is a cost-efficient way for California to provide education to its people,” said Homa Shabahang, Vice President for Enrollment Management at La Verne. “It allows kids to take advantage of independent schools, which reduces the need for more state schools. If students can’t come to independent colleges and universities — due to a suspension of Cal Grants, for instance — they’ll need public schools, and their budgets are being cut. If you reduce the capacity of schools like La Verne, there’s going to be added pressure on the state schools. It’s really a short-sighted way of thinking. It may solve a problem in the short-term, but it will cause more problems in the long run.”
Lingering after one of his small, seminar-style classes at La Verne recently, Cal Grant recipient Pui Choi said, “With costs at state schools going up, more people are turning to private schools. Applications to La Verne are higher than they’ve been in a long time, I think, in part, because of this. But if Cal Grants are suspended, that would really affect a lot of students. I don’t know where they’d go if that happened.”
Elimination of Cal Grants would have an impact on the composition of the student body at La Verne, too.
“We have lots of minorities,” Shabahang said. “Our largest population of students comes from within a 50-mile radius of campus. So their income levels are not quite as high. They’ve been hit harder by the economy. If Cal Grants were to be cut, they’d be in jeopardy. Lots of students won’t be able to come to La Verne if Cal Grants are cut. Also, Cal States and U.C.s may not be open to them, due to budget cuts.”
It all comes down to priorities, according to Jonathan Reed, Interim Dean of La Verne’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“This budget crisis has called into question the overall commitment to higher education,” Reed said. “I’m not sure we have the public will to fund education. Cutting Cal Grants may solve an immediate budget problem, but it will hurt us in the long run. The education system has driven the success of California’s economy from post-World War II through the 1970s. As we undermine our education system, we undermine the future of California’s economy.
“Some politicians in California may see Cal Grants as wasteful spending,” Reed added. “They think we need more prisons than educational funding. My hope is that there are enough forward-looking people who realize that this is essential to our own future.”
And who realize that some dreams are perhaps best not deferred.