In response to the governor’s proposed elimination of the Cal Grant for incoming freshmen, Berkeley High School students and administrators are launching a campaign to convince state legislators otherwise.
The Cal Grant provides full fees for public universities—$7,788 for schools in the University of California system, and $3,354 for the California State University system. Students who attend community colleges that qualify for the grant pay no fees and can receive up to $1,551 every year for living expenses, transportation, and books. Students who qualify and attend private schools in California receive up to $9,708 in tuition fees.
“The counseling department is working to get a letter-writing campaign going, asking students and parents to write to the governor and legislators, and providing sample letters,” said BHS College Advisor Ilene Abrams. “We are also writing letters to the editor, and I am working on an op-ed piece.”
According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the elimination of Cal Grants will keep 22,500 students from attending the state’s community colleges.
“Freezing Cal Grants will affect the ability of low-income students to attend the college of their choice,” said Abrams, one of two college advisors at Berkeley High. “If these cuts are not replaced by additional aid from the colleges, which seems highly unlikely in these economic times, some students will have to change their college plans—either going to a two-year instead of a four-year college, going to a less- expensive college, or putting off enrollment for the time being.”
“Because the Cal Grant cuts are new, and we are all hoping that they will not be finalized, no students that I know of have changed their plans,” said Abrams. “However, prior to May 1, some students chose to go to a lower-cost school rather than their first-choice school, due to financial considerations.”
Andrew Lowe, a Berkeley High senior who will attend UC Berkeley in the fall, says that, while the elimination of the Cal Grant will not personally affect him, it affects many of his friends.
“I am not very happy with the possible elimination of Cal Grants,” said Lowe. “They are very helpful for a lot of kids and families who rely on them so their child can go to college. I think without Cal Grants the selection process would be more competitive, in that colleges will base their decision on how much money they have to give in aid and whether they feel the student can just go somewhere else.”
Lowe says that funding education should be the number one priority of the state.
“I’m not too informed on what our state budget looks like, but I’m pretty sure there are other things the state can cut besides education,” said Lowe. “Education is important, and it needs to be taken care of.”
Some local organizations that are trying to pick up the slack. The Berkeley Community Fund, a non-profit community organization, gave out 14 “High Hopes” scholarships to Berkeley High School students this year in hope that they can attend college.
“The interest of the Berkeley Community Fund is to close the gap for students who want to attend college but can’t because of financial concerns,” said Laura Olivas, the organization’s fund administrator. “The Cal Grants really make the difference and their elimination is going to negatively impact the students here. We still need the Cal Grants, but our organization is trying to do everything it can to support students going to college with our scholarships.”
Berkeley Public Education Foundation President Molly Fraker said that the news of possible elimination of the grant is very unfortunate.
“It is extremely disappointing news,” said Fraker. “We are aware of the incredible impact that this measure would have on the Berkeley High School community.”
Education analysts around the country are very puzzled by the governor’s proposal to eliminate the Cal Grant.
“This is not happening everywhere,” said Tom Mortenson, senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. “Almost all other states protect need-based grant programs and expand them during recessions… they cut school budgets with the expectation they can raise tuition. This is why we were all so shocked that the governor was going to cut this first. Maybe he is making a political statement. He’s going to galvanize a lot of opposition.”
“Cutting Cal Grants will hurt over 400,000 students who have worked hard,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner. “Those who have qualified for our public education institutions will be denied access to that opportunity. It’s the wrong approach.”
to his proposal to zero out CalGrants. His plan would leave thousands of deserving students without the means or the opportunity to pursue their education.. The students will suffer, but so will the future well-being of California.
“Unfortunately, the state’s fiscal situation is so dire that everything is on the table since Republicans and the governor continue to refuse to consider new sources of revenue,” said state Sen. Loni Hancock. I urge everyone to make their voices heard in the State Capitol so that this essential program can be saved.”