A proposed overhaul to California’s state grant program could see hundreds of thousands of students, especially older students, become eligible for financial aid.
A bill to simplify the Cal Grant program and widen eligibility to nearly 200,000 more students was recently introduced by Kevin McCarty of Sacramento and Jose Medina of Riverside County—two Democratic California assembly members. The story is gaining traction across various press release distribution services.
“We really have been rationing access to this Cal Grant program for the past few years, and we created a very unique system here to slice and dice people out, and we should be focusing on bringing people in,” said McCarty during a roundtable discussion on the proposal on Thursday. “This is really good, not just for students and helping them graduate with less debt, but really for helping our economy.”
The bill, AB 1456, would lower or remove GPA requirements for Cal Grant awards and expand the awards to cover older students who are more than a year out of high school. The proposal also looks to redirect the focus of financial aid from free waivers and tuition to stipends that can help students pay for housing, food, transportation, and other essentials while attending college.
California’s community college fees and tuition are low at $46 per unit, said senior vice president Audrey Dow at the Campaign for College Opportunity—an organization dedicated to expanding college access and increasing completion of degrees.
“What students don’t have any aid for is their cost of living,” Dow said. “There’s no money entitled for housing, for food, for books, for any of those things.”
State Legislature will need to approve the bill—which was introduced earlier this month—and Governor Gavin Newsom will need to sign it before any of the changes can take place. Newsom introduced a budget proposal in January that included a 3% increase to funding for higher education. McCarty believes that working the new proposed changes into the budget is possible.
McCarty also stated that he believes last year’s drop in the budget due to COVID-19 was a one-year issue. “The economy, ironically, is booming right now with all the high-wage earners in California,” he said. He stated that—depending on how you look at it–it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fund the changes, but he believes a start can be had.
Several years ago, the California Student Aid Commission lead the Cal Grant Reform Work Group in designing a new framework for the Cal Grant program—long before the pandemic set in. In March, the group proposed initial framework alterations to the California Legislature.
Lawmakers asked the group to come back with a budget-neutral proposal, due to economic uncertainty, Dow said.
According to the California Student Aid Commission, the current Cal Grant is for students who attend California State University, California Community College institutions, or the University of California—or qualifying independent career colleges or technical schools in California. There are three types of Cal Grants, known as A, B, and C—at the current time.