If financial support for one significant grant that helps cover your educational costs is cut by 44 percent, how will you make up the difference?
That’s a question that could be asked if California Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget, due in June, is approved. Brown has proposed that Cal Grants, which provide a maximum award for students at Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU) institutions — including USD — of $9,708, be reduced to $5,472.
The Cal Grant program, a need-based grant for college students at California State University, University of California systems, and private and non-profit colleges, is a topic for political conversation in Sacramento and, for the nearly 500 USD students who rely on it to help them afford their education, a topic of major concern.
“It’s definitely been helpful to me and it takes some of the load off,” said one current USD student, a double major with a 3.2 GPA who works two jobs, two additional campus work roles and is still active in student organizations. “But my parents still have to pay some to make it work. It would be pretty devastating if this happens. It would be an even bigger burden if it were to be removed.”
“Cal Grants are not set in the state budget,” said Thomas Cleary, USD’s senior director for community and government relations. But, he said, “Students who receive Cal Grant awards likely receive federal and private grants, scholarships from USD and its donors, as well as wage income from work-study jobs around campus.”
Without the Cal Grant, though, it makes a difference. This cut, if passed, would also affect incoming USD students in Fall 2012.
A second USD student who relies on the grant said if the proposed action takes place, they’d be forced to leave the university: “The Cal Grant fills a gap. It shouldn’t be terminated. Why cut from education? Why not something else?”
Less than three percent of the state’s entire higher education budget goes toward funding Cal Grant students who attend AICCU schools, according to the organization’s website. Meanwhile, the return on the investment is high as students at AICCU schools have the highest four-year graduation rate in the state. Furthermore, not only is the maximum award up for a potential cut, but the maximum amount has not been raised in 10 years, a 30 percent decline in its present value.
The Cal Grant, along with scholarships, student loans, and part-time employment are among the key ways for students to afford to attend college. Judy Lewis Logue, director of USD’s Office of Financial Aid, said more than 70 percent of undergraduates attending USD depend on financial assistance to help them with their educational expenses. During the 2010-2011 academic year, 61 percent of those students had student loans as part of their financial aid “package.” The average loan or combination of loans for the 2010-2011 academic year was $10,098.
To raise awareness about this proposed action against Cal Grants, students, parents, AICCU and individual school officials and administrators are taking action. An online Save the Cal Grant petition is available to sign and letters can be sent to local California legislators — click here to find your local legislator — to protest the proposed Cal Grant cut. There are social media websites, too, providing video, news and updated information such as the Students First Alliance Facebook page and by following @savecalgrants on Twitter.
Cleary and USD students will travel to Sacramento for “Student Lobby Day in the Capitol” on March 7. It’s an opportunity for students to speak directly with legislators about the importance of the Cal Grant Program and the impact a cut would have on California students reaching their educational goals. Cleary said USD has annually visited Sacramento on behalf of student advocacy and education. Next week’s trip will be the eighth consecutive year he’s taken USD students to Sacramento, including 2009 and 2010, to meet with legislators.
— Ryan T. Blystone