Cal State raises issue with Cal Grant expansion

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  • Photo courtesy of Cal Poly Humboldt
  • An aerial view of the Cal Poly Humboldt campus.

The campaign to extend free tuition to more low-income California students has been riding a wave of unanimous goodwill, despite its high costs. But the state’s — and the country’s — largest public university system has made it public that it fears the major trade-offs needed for that expansion will put a financial burden on some middle-class students.

Supporters of the effort say those concerns are misplaced. How and if lawmakers choose to respond will affect the fate of tens of thousands of prospective college students in California for years to come.

Officials from the Chancellor’s Office at California State University warned the board on Tuesday that while it anticipated a net increase of nearly 29,000 students overall who would receive the free tuition scholarship, it would also see a decrease of about 39,000 future members of the middle class. students – even as some 68,000 low-income students would be newly eligible for the scholarship. To be clear, if the Cal Grant expansion happens as proposed, middle-class students currently receiving the award will continue to do so.

The information was not necessarily new. Supporters of expanding the Cal Grant, the state’s main financial aid tool that waives tuition or provides cash assistance to about 500,000 Californians, have been transparent that some students will lose out. their eligibility even if others would gain. But, while he doesn’t have a formal position on Cal Grant’s expansion, Cal State’s packaging of information was a reversal of the hitherto dominant narrative that Cal Grant’s expansion is a clean win. for students.

At issue is Assembly Bill 1746, a bill championed by key lawmakers and a constellation of student advocacy groups. The bill passed the Assembly unanimously on Thursday and is endorsed by California’s community college system, whose students would be the primary beneficiaries of the bill. If passed and funded, another 150,000 students will get the Cal grant, the result of the bill removing high school age and absence restrictions for college students and grade requirements for community college students.

But that 150,000 figure is a net gain. Because the bill would lower the income eligibility cap, tens of thousands of middle-class students would suddenly find themselves without the Cal grant — including the state of California’s 39,000 undergraduate students. For a family of four, the income cap would rise from about $116,000 a year to $73,000, university officials said.

The main drivers of Cal Grant’s expansion effort argue that university systems will have more than enough money from their own financial aid dollars to cover any funding shortfalls for middle-class students. This is because by adding more students to the State financial assistance program, which releases internal financial aid for a system like Cal State to cover students who would previously have been eligible for Cal Grants.

Sensitivities are high.

Some proponents of Cal Grant expansion viewed this week’s presentation to the board of directors — the governing body of Cal State’s system — as lopsided. The presentation focused too much on who would lose under Cal Grant without acknowledging benefits for low-income students currently ineligible for Cal Grant, said Audrey Dow, senior vice president of the nonprofit Campaign for College Opportunity. defense lucrative in California.

Cal Grant’s expansion under the bill requires more than $300 million a year in state support. It’s a significant sum that must be negotiated as part of the state budget by June 15 between lawmakers and Governor Gavin Newsom. Adding to the intrigue, Newsom vetoed a similar Cal Grant expansion last year despite unanimous support in the Legislative Assembly.

Will Cal State’s concerns about the bill negatively impact these budget negotiations? “No,” wrote Assemblyman Jose Medina, a Democrat from Riverside and co-author of the bill. “Our hope is that segments (of the public higher education system) will recognize the immense benefit that debt-free college will bring to their students and their institutions,” Medina added in a written statement.

The architects of the bill say another extension of financial aid — the Middle Class Scholarship 2.0 — will eventually bridge that eligibility gap. But that wouldn’t be true until the state committed enough money to fully fund this program, which won’t happen this year. The state plans to make a down payment of $632 million on the scholarship this year. Funding it fully — and thus covering the eligibility gap left by the proposed Cal Grant changes — would cost the state an additional $2 billion a year.

“CSU believes that any modernization of the Cal Grant program should do no harm,” Eric Bakke, acting assistant vice chancellor for advocacy and state relations at Cal State, said at the trustees’ meeting on Tuesday.

Another author of the Cal Grant expansion bill, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, a Democrat from Sacramento, said in a statement that “Cal Grant reform and the expansion of the class scholarship average are the right path to a debt-free college in California.” He added that lawmakers “will make sure the two work in tandem, and the very few students who end up not qualifying for the Cal grant will be supplemented with the middle-class scholarship.”

Proponents of the Cal Grant extension say the Cal State system doesn’t tell the whole story. Cal State also administers a $700 million financial aid grant – called the State University Grant – which proponents of Cal Grant expansion say could be used to cover expenses for middle-class students. excluded from the invoice.

“I don’t think that’s a complete representation of what the bill can do,” said Isaac Alferos, the outgoing head of the Cal State Student Association, which represents college students and is a key supporter of the bill. Cal Grant’s law of expansion.

Under the Cal Grant expansion plan, Cal State students would receive $83 million more per year than they collectively currently do upon full implementation, according to data provided by the California Student Aid Commission. That’s even after taking into account that the plan would eliminate an approximately $1,650 tuition-free scholarship to cover a portion of living expenses that goes to nearly 114,000 Cal Grant recipients at Cal State today. today.

CalMatters asked the Cal State Chancellor’s office for a breakdown of how the university’s $700 million grant would fare if the Cal Grant expansion were successful, but the system did not provide one. . Instead, he offered a statement from Noelia Gonzalez, the system’s acting financial aid director. Cal State “does not oppose Assembly Bill 1746”, she wrote, and that “we will certainly reverse our policies” if Cal Grant’s expansion impacts the university grant.

At least one California state administrator has zeroed in on missing state university grant data. “I would have liked to see more numbers from the presentation that proposes a plan (State University Grant) as well as the Cal Grant plan if passed,” said outgoing Student Trustee Krystal Raynes in an interview. If there is more pressure on the university grant, Cal State’s system could ask the state for more funding, she added.

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