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Cal Grant reform would increase students’ access to awards

Legislators’ attempt to reform the distribution of state-funded aid is in congruence with a proposed budget increase in higher education spending.

By Isaac Dektor, Staff Writer

Cal Grant 2 would increase the number of community college students eligible to receive financial aid. (Graphic Illustration by Vickie Guzman/The Valley Star)

A proposal to reform California’s most utilized financial aid service would make an estimated 150,000 low-income community college students eligible for the program.

Cal Grant 2, an amended version of the Cal Grant Reform Act, would change the way the state distributes financial aid as well as remove and alter certain restrictions on the program. Assemblyman Jose Medina of the 61st district proposed AB 1456, which aims to more than double the number of students receiving aid at community colleges and state universities through Cal Grant 2. The reform would reduce the yearly dollar amount received by each individual by roughly $400, about a fourth of the total annual sum. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2021-22 budget includes an increase in spending for the Cal Grant program.

The proposed reforms take the total number of eligible students from 124,260 to 279,264 by striking the eligibility criteria of having a certain high school GPA as well as allowing older students into the program. It would also reduce the annual sum received by students to $1250; however, students with children may be eligible for larger awards.

“Our goal is to simplify the process and to be more realistic with the needs of today’s students, which are very different from students in the past,” Medina said in an interview with Edsource.

John McDowell, the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild’s government relations director who served on the California Student Aid Commission a decade ago, explained the significance of the changes to eligibility.

“When you graduate from high school, within a year you can go into Cal Grant,” McDowell said. “Once you get beyond that age you're not qualified. We’re in a world now where people who are 26 and older — they are in a position where they cannot go to college.”

While expanded access to financial aid will support more low-income students in higher education, the reduction of the total amount students receive is a trade-off.

“I do appreciate the legislature evaluating the Cal Grant program to see how we can better serve California community college students,” Valley College President Barry Gribbons said. “Many would argue that [it] does not serve community college students as well as it could, so any enhancements to the policies and processes for making awards to California community college students would be great.”

The proposed reform would also make middle-class students ineligible for aid through Cal Grant, though they would still qualify for middle-class scholarships, which cover students with household incomes of up to $184,000.

Cal Grant has multiple types of awards, ranging from direct aid for tuition costs to non-tuition assistance, in order to support low-income students.

Newsom has proposed a budget for next year that includes $25 million to increase access to Cal Grant; however, he has not supported any changes to eligibility criteria.

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