Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently proposed a new way to remedy California’s budget crisis – cutting the Cal Grant program, which provides financial aid to college students.
Under this proposal, no new Cal Grants would be awarded beginning fall 2009, but students already receiving Cal Grants would continue to receive them.
Schwarzenegger has said the cuts are necessary to help close California’s $24.3 billion budget deficit.
Although the California State Legislature must approve the governor’s proposal before it can become law, the fact that cutting financial aid for students is even an option is shocking for some.
“We are extremely troubled that the Cal Grants program has been mentioned for possible elimination,” said UC President Mark C. Yudof in a recent statement. “More than 46,000 UC undergraduates receive Cal Grants, which bring in $293 million in grant aid for students from lower-income California families.”
The University of California has already undergone significant fee increases recently, and is struggling under a variety of budget issues. Yudof admitted that he was “gravely concerned” by the financial outlook for the UC system.
Although California schools and students could be negatively affected by this proposal, it would provide a much-needed boost to California’s economy.
“The state does spend a lot of money on Cal Grant,” said Steve Boilard, representative for the Legislative Analyst’s Office. By cutting the program, he estimated that the state could save $280 million in the first year, and in future years up to $700 or $800 million.
That’s not to say Boilard supports the cut.
“The only benefit of this proposal is that it’s a way to reduce state expenditures,” he said. “I can’t think of any good policy rationale. The state has made a commitment to provide for the financially needy, and this just doesn’t seem smart.”
According to the UC Davis Financial Aid Office, for the 2008-2009 school year 7,083 Cal Grant awards were awarded to UC Davis students, for a total of $48,886,221.
“The governor’s proposal to eliminate the Cal Grant program would have a devastating impact on low- and middle-income students attending UC Davis,” said Joyce Cleaver, business office manager for the Financial Aid Office. “We are deeply concerned about our ability to provide access if it comes to fruition.”
Possible consequences of cutting the Cal Grant program, said Cleaver, include an increase in students’ estimated self-help level from $9,000 to $10,500, a possible increased time-to-degree due to students needing to work more hours per week, and a potential drop in enrollment at UC Davis due to students’ inability to pay.
Although many are outraged at the governor’s proposal, the elimination of Cal Grant is still up for consideration by the California Legislature.
“Due to the magnitude of the budget crisis, I wouldn’t rule anything out,” said Boilard. “But this should be the last resort.”
SARAH HANSEL can be reached at email@example.com.