Every year the Parade of Roses marches through Pasadena, swallows return to the mission in Capistrano, gray whales pass up and down the California coast, hot Santa Ana desert winds pick up in the fall, frogs jump in Calaveras County, and garlic is celebrated in Gilroy. However, there is a new phenomenon that is becoming equally apparent in recent years: college students crisscrossing corridors of the state capitol in the spring to make a case for preserving Cal Grants.
This year, Aly Yang and Briana Lyles, two sophomores out of more than 550 Cal Grant recipients at USD, traveled to Sacramento to speak to elected officials and legislative staff about the benefits of the state continuing to fund Cal Grants and their current levels. They joined numerous other students from the 75 other institutions that comprise the Association of Independent California Colleges & Universities, which has been organizing this event for the past 10 years.
Unlike other state programs, Cal Grant awards are at the mercy of the state legislature and the budget process. While the amount awarded to a student is consistent for four years, the maximum award amounts are not fixed by statute and can vary from year to year.
Cal Grants are awards made through the California Student Aid Commission to eligible students from low- and mid-income families so they can attend college. There are two primary Cal Grant programs: one for undergraduate students attending a university in the CSU or UC systems, who can qualify up to $2,772 and $6,636 respectfully, to cover full systemwide fees; and another for those attending private or independent colleges and universities, like USD, who are eligible to receive up to $9,708 towards the cost of tuition.
The period to apply for Cal Grants is generally between January 1st and March 2nd of a student’s senior year in high school. To qualify, there is a formula based on the income of a student’s parents and the number of siblings in their family. Many Cal Grant recipients are first-generation Californians and the first in their family to attend college.
For the last two years, the maximum award amount of the Cal Grant program has escaped the budget knife. However, the grant total dipped by 14 percent in 2005 and 2006, but returned to its current levels in 2007. To date, both Gov. Schwarzenegger and the California Legislature have not indicated they are willing to make cuts in the Cal Grant program. Nevertheless, Yang and Lyles took time out of their spring break vacation to fly to the capitol and knock on doors.
The state budget for Fiscal Year 2010 will be resolved at some point this summer. Last year, it was approved three months past the deadline. The awards to both Yang and Lyles are guaranteed for the next two years, but they worry about those who have applied to attend USD and other California colleges and universities and hope the next generation will have the same opportunity they enjoy.
For more information on Cal Grants: www.calgrants.org.
— Thomas Cleary