Public colleges left out of Cal Grant funding proposal

Melissa Simon

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A new bill has been introduced by Assembly members Beth Gaines and Mike Morrell that would return Cal Grant awards to the full amount before the 2012-13 budget cuts.

Gaines, representative for the 6th District, co-authored AB 1085 with Morrell, representative for the 40th District, to combat the cuts to Cal Grant funding for students at private universities. Gaines said the funding was cut from $9,708 to $4,000. 

“I see this as a problem because the Cal Grant program is designed to help all California students in need to pursue a college degree, regardless of what type of institution they choose to attend,” Gaines said.

The only colleges affected by AB 1085 are non-profit and proprietary private institutions because they would be able to accept more students who could not afford tuition under current Cal Grant funding, Gaines said.

Miles Nevin, executive director for the California State Student Association (CSSA), said they oppose the bill because the cuts not only affect private colleges, but public colleges as well.

“We’re opposed because our students don’t believe that private colleges and universities should be draining the Cal Grant program, and for that matter draining the Pell Grant program,” he said. “We have similar positions on federal legislation.”

Nevin said the CSSA discovered AB 1085 by using CapitolTrack, a system that tracks all legislation.

“When we came across (AB 1085), it was definitely of interest to us because obviously a lot of CSU students use the Cal Grant program,” he said. “We did some analysis on it and put it in front of our board of directors earlier this month at our meeting.”

John Kendall, a senior majoring in TV production, said he receives grants for his education.

“The grants have been really helpful because they have covered at least half my tuition and sometimes even all of it,” he said. “Because I receive grants, I feel kind of helpless in a way because the more money you can receive the better. With this bill, I feel a little left out.”

Mahealani Holcomb, a super-senior majoring in speech pathology, said she does not receive grants but the disbursement of money should be equal.

“Grants are good period, but we’re struggling too,” she said. “I understand they pay more than we do (at CSUN), but everyone deserves an equal chance to get a grant.”
 

Gaines said that AB 1085, if passed, would give students who cannot pay their tuition the option to attend a CSU, UC or private institution. As of 2012, there were nearly 40,000 students attending private institutions and receiving Cal Grant awards.

Nevin said the CSU is one of the state systems that efficiently educates students and graduates them in a timely manner and does so with low debt levels and high gainful employment levels.

“At the end of the day, the state only has so much money,” Nevin said. “It’s very frustrating to us and to our students that a private college or university can charge, for example $50,000 a year in tuition and their students drain the Cal Grant program. It’s public money, and we feel that it should be used by students in the public school system.” 

Holcomb said it almost sounds like the 1 percent are getting a break and the 99 percent are suffering.

“I get there are some students in the same economic class as me that go to a private college, but they shouldn’t have any better chance to get a grant than students that go to a public college,” she said.

Kendall does understand why students may need more money if attending a private college but said students at public colleges, including CSUN, need just as much help as the others.

 “I guess if students going to private colleges have really good grades than I could see why they might get better grants, but students in a university in general should have an equal opportunity at receiving grants,” he said.

Gaines said if the bill is voted down, she will continue to fight to make sure that all students are given the opportunity to pursue affordable and effective higher education at the institution they choose.

“Restoring Cal Grants for private school students is a smart investment in education and protects the purpose of the Cal Grant program,” she said. 

Nevin said the CSSA is not opposed to the Cal Grant program itself but to the fact that so much money is taken up by private colleges and universities that charge so much money.

“Why are all these colleges like the Harvards and Stanfords, with exorbitant endowments and enough money to provide scholarships to their students, sucking up federal money that could be used by public school students that truly need it?” he said. “This issue is gaining some traction, but it needs to be talked about more and more, especially as states disinvest in public higher education as they are doing. It’s a federal issue and a state issue, and this bill is only one little piece of it.”