Students Lobby against Cal Grant Cuts in the Capitol

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Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to cut Cal Grants by 44 percent at private universities as part of his efforts to reduce California’s deficit, led ten USF students and 4 administrators to demand cuts be made somewhere else in Sacramento.
The USF group joined about 200 other people at a lobby day hosted March 7 by the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU). After hearing a series of talks providing tips on how to best persuade their representatives, students from over 50 different private universities gathered in small groups to share their stories to assembly members about what a cut to the Cal Grant would mean to them.

One student out of the 943 that would be affected by the cuts at USF (and present at the lobby day) was Paige del Rio. A transfer student and International Studies major, del Rio said state cuts would lead her to pursue her education elsewhere.

“I’ve put in applications already actually for the fall at SF State, UC Berkeley and UC Davis as a backup because it’s just not a reality for me if the funding is cut I can’t afford to be at USF,” she said.

Del Rio is currently taking 22 units between her courses at USF and City College to ensure she is eligible to transfer to other institutions.

Assembly member and Chair of Education Budget Committee Susan Bonilla spoke to students at the press conference held March 7 alluding to why cutting from higher education is a bad idea.

“The commitment that the state makes in you will not only double in its investment, it will five times over pay back the investment that the state of California makes in you as you enter the workforce,” Bonilla said.

A recipient of Cal Grant B during her education at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, Bonilla said she understood the frustration of private and public university students regarding cuts to higher education.

After about 70 students testified on behalf of the Cal Grant during a subcommittee hearing on the cuts during the lobby day, Bonilla and her committee voted against reductions to the state’s financial aid program.

Yet, the threat of Cal Grant cuts has not gone away.

In the attempt to reduce California’s deficit by more than $9 billion dollars, Brown also proposed increases to the GPA requirements for Cal Grant eligibility. Under his budget suggestion, the GPA requirement for Cal Grant A, which public and private students receive, would be raised from a 3.0 to a 3.25 while the GPA requirement for Cal Grant B, primarily awarded to students in city college, would increase from a 2.0 to a 2.75.

With a growing deficit and only a 20 percent control over the state’s budget, the governor and the assembly will without a doubt have to make difficult choices.
Cal Grant aid is expected to cost the state 1.5 billion this year, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office. This is an increase of 85 percent from the past four years.

Yet, cuts to higher education may cause future problems for the state if students like del Rio choose to take a seat in the already crowded classrooms of public colleges.

Director of Financial Aid at Loyola Marymount Los Angeles, Catherine Graham, said, “I think public institutions are challenged with budget just like we are with the Cal Grant but I think with class sizes and restrictions in enrollment limits an the increases in cost in tuition these days it’s almost more cost effective for a student to go to a private institution like LMU or University of San Francisco rather than a public institution because of the equivalent cost with financial aid.”

It is not clear if cuts will be targeted toward private universities specifically after the subcommittee’s decision, but it is clear that students will not remain quiet if that is the case.

A sophomore Political Science student from the University of Southern California, Shamoya Washington said, “If there was cuts made I think that we would have to go back and continue to lobby for the legislators to either reverse the bill or to create other forms of revenue for the students because honestly I feel as though a lot of students attend California institutions and schools because they know that they’ll receive benefits from the government but if they’re not receiving benefits what is the reason for them to stay in the state?”

At USF, it is evident even non-Cal Grant recipients are willing to lobby against future cuts. Realizing that cuts to the Cal Grant, whichbenefit primarily low and middle income students, would potentially decrease diversity at USF led ASUSF president Lex Wochner to Sacramento along with other student government leaders from other universities several days before AICCU’s lobby day.

“I think the issue affects me personally as much as it affects all of us, meaning that I could potentially lose those friends and coworkers if this proposal went through, and further more I may have never had the opportunity to meet them in the first place,” Wochner said.

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