Inside USD

Students Lobby Legislators for Cal Grants

Friday, March 5, 2010

Mike&MyaEverything you really need to know about advocacy, you learned in kindergarten.

Any child knows that respect is the true basis of good manners and the foundation of any meaningful relationship. That theme resonated in the halls of the State Capitol on Tuesday, March 2, as undergraduate students from dozens of independent colleges and universities throughout California visited with legislators and legislative staff members to express gratitude for their Cal Grant awards and advocate for continued funding of the program.

Among the students from institutions belonging to the Association of Independent California Colleges & Universities (AICCU) were USD’s Mya Keaton and Michael Mireles. AICCU is the statewide voice of California’s 76 private and non-profit colleges and universities accredited by the Western Association of Schools & Colleges on policy issues; USD has been an AICCU member since the organization’s inception in 1955.

In addition to his enthusiastic personality, Mireles is known across campus for his spiked Mohawk hairstyle, which attracted numerous questions, compliments and comments in Sacramento. Even Senator Dave Cox ‘66 (pictured with Mireles and Keaton above) joked with Mireles about his hair. He also regaled the pair with a few fond stories about his days at USD, praised them on their advocacy work for Cal Grants and commended both of them for their career paths.

capitolThe AICCU students delivered a strong, personal message about the difference that Cal Grants have made in their education. Officials were also presented with certificates of appreciation listing the total number of Cal Grant recipients in each Assembly or Senate district.

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 CSU or UC campus who can qualify — up to $3,354 and $7,788 respectively — to cover full systemwide fees; and another for those attending AICCU institutions like USD who are eligible to receive up to $9,708 toward the cost of tuition. The Cal Grant entitlement awards are guaranteed for four years of college, while competitive Cal Grant awards are year-to-year and not guaranteed.

Last year, Governor Schwarzenegger proposed eliminating Cal Grants altogether. The state legislature disagreed and looked elsewhere to try and balance the budget. This year, the governor has recommend eliminating all competitive Cal Grants, which would impact 37,726 students at all public and private colleges statewide.

The appreciation received by students from AICCU-members institutions was in sharp contrast to the demonstrations and demands made the day before by University of California students. On seeing the raucous crowd of UC students outside the capitol building on Monday and police in riot gear, one legislative veteran momentarily thought she was back in the 1960’s and waited for tear gas to disperse the angry mob. “Now today, we see students from the independent colleges and universities who know how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ That message is going to have a more positive impact on decision makers as they try to wrestle with a $19.9 billion budget deficit.”

For Keaton and Mireles, the day in Sacramento was an eye-opening experience. While some officials were more receptive than others to the need to save Cal Grants, both students effectively represented over 500 Cal Grant award recipients who are currently enrolled at USD.

— Tom Cleary

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