Cal Grant funding at stake

The Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities and the California Students First Alliance have created a petition to stop cuts in the Cal Grant funding system. 

The petition, which went live on Feb. 28, aims to garner at least 10,000 supporters. Currently, the petition has received more than 2,000 signatures.

The effort was triggered by a proposed 11 percent cut in the maximum aid for income-based students in the 2014-15 school year, or from $9,084 to $8,056. This would be the third consecutive cut in aid in as many years for private college students.

Though the majority of the aid goes to public school students in the University of California system, the program currently provides assistance to 33,000 private college students per year.

Costs for the Cal Grant program have been on the rise, however, with 2014’s projected cost at $1.8 billion,  Diana Fuentes-Michel said, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission, the organization that administers Cal Grant aid.

The potential cuts would have a direct impact on USC students who are current recipients of the funds, such as Karen Arcos, a junior majoring in psychology.

“Lowering the Cal Grant would increase my expected family contribution for my senior year,” Arcos said. “The costs of an undergraduate education are already increasing, so the last thing students receiving financial aid need is a decrease in available state aid.”

Sarah Schwartz, a sophomore majoring in public relations and visual and performing arts studies, signed the petition last week and discussed how grants have helped her educational and professional pursuits thus far.

“[Grants have] allowed me to attend a university where I am able to pursue my career interests,” Schwartz said. “Without grants, I don’t think I would have been able to complete, or even begin, my studies at USC. Having been raised by a single mother in a low-income household, grants that I have received are a huge part of the reason why I have been able to be a student at USC.”

Schwartz elaborated that reducing Cal Grant funding would pose an unnecessary challenge in education.

“Lowering Cal Grant funding would hurt current and future students by putting an obstacle in their path of education and hindering their plans to graduate on time,” Schwartz said.

The Cal Grant funding program began in 1955 as a means to provide scholarships to those attending private colleges only. Once the University of California started to charge fees in the early 1990s as a result of economic recession and fiscal deficits, however, the program was expanded to public college students as well.

Today, demand for the award is at record levels with the California Student Aid Commission reporting 383,948 participants in this past year alone. With a recent budget surplus in California, along with a  voter-approved tax increase from this past election season, many on the outside are left to question the idea of cutting educational spending during a time of increased tax revenue.

Veronica Villalobos Cruz, vice president of external relations at AICCU, discussed a previous year’s petition that the group also co-sponsored.

“In 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a 44 percent reduction to the Cal Grant award,” Cruz wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan. “AICCU utilized [a petition from] and it was effective in getting students to participate in large numbers and policymakers were very aware that the proposed 44 percent would have dismantled the intent of the Cal Grant program. During this time, AICCU had over 10,000 petitions electronically delivered to the state house by March of 2012.”

Will Shuck, spokesman for Democrat Assembly Speaker and California State Controller John Perez, said that the assemblyman was working toward improving the Cal Grant.

“We are working to improve Cal Grants and access to higher education,” Shuck said. “We will continuing looking at specific proposals and options as the budget process progresses.”

The petition can be found on the website and is addressed to Perez.