We need to reform Cal Grants to better serve community college students – Natural Self Esteem

Courtesy: Fullerton College and North Orange County Community College District

Fullerton College campus

The current student loan payment pause expires at the end of this summer. This has once again forced the Biden administration to seriously consider student loan forgiveness to relieve college graduates facing mounting debt. The issue continues to be a rallying cry for activists who continue to urge President Joe Biden to enact some form of student loan cancellation ahead of the upcoming midterm elections. Recently, Biden said we should expect a deleveraging plan soon.

While forgiving loan payments is certainly a step to help those who have faced mounting financial hardship since the pandemic began, we in California can keep students from going into debt by supporting the Cal Grant program, the state’s premier financial aid system state, reform.

Right now, California lawmakers have an opportunity to make college more affordable with Assembly Bill 1746, also known as the Cal Grant Equity Framework. AB 1746, authored by Reps. Jose Medina, Kevin McCarty, and Sen. Connie Leyva, will reform and modernize the Cal Grant program, expanding access for more community college students and making California’s federally funded financial aid system more equitable.

The current Cal Grant program creates artificial barriers for community college students to qualify for financial aid, which in turn impairs both student access and success. Although community college students make up approximately two-thirds of California’s postsecondary students, they receive less than one-third of total Cal Grant awards and less than 10% of funding. The lack of investment in our students has resulted in a financial aid system that leaves many low-income community college students without the support they need to meet their educational goals.

Because the state support system is primarily geared towards tuition fees and does not sufficiently take into account the total costs of the course. Although community college tuition is relatively low compared to California State University or University of California systems, California Community College students have difficulty paying rent, buying groceries, getting to class, and in many cases to support their families. One thing that sets our students apart is that many are student parents. These students are often forced to work more and take fewer classes, ultimately affecting their ability to succeed in the classroom. This bill aims to address the overall cost of participation by simplifying the various Cal Grant programs and expanding student eligibility. Extending the application deadline and removing the current GPA requirements and age limit means returning and non-traditional students have better access to financial aid.

Under AB 1746, 109,000 more California Community College students have access to a Cal Grant, a 60% increase over the current number of eligible students. In addition, 38,000 other student parents are eligible for Cal Grants and approximately 2,400 other California Dream Act students.

We believe in California Community Colleges and their unwavering commitment to reaching out and supporting anyone who seeks an education and professional training based on our own life experiences. As students, none of us had the financial means to bear all of the costs associated with attending college. Without financial support and in view of the demands of life, our studies would have been difficult or even impossible.

In our leadership roles—as chancellor of the North Orange Community College District and as a board member of Cerritos College—we interact with students, hear their stories, and understand firsthand the urgent need to expand Cal Grant to make important resources available to students provide support with their entire training costs.

More than ever, our students need more financial support options, especially at a time when enrollment has dropped significantly due to the pandemic and daily living expenses have continued to rise. As a key entry point into our state’s workforce for individuals of diverse backgrounds, experiences and challenges, California community colleges are a key driver of the success of the California economy.

It is critical that the Legislature approve AB 1746 by the end of this summer and that Governor Gavin Newsom signs the statewide student assistance bill into law. By modernizing and expanding student access to Cal Grant, we can better support community college students, fill the gaps and shortcomings of the current financial aid system, and better serve those who need help most.

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Marisa Perez is President of the California Community College Trustees Board and Trustee of Cerritos College.

Byron D. Clift Breland is President of the Chief Executive Officers of the California Community Colleges Board and Chancellor of the North Orange County Community College District.

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