5C Students May Not Feel the Cal Grant Cuts, But Others Will

As part of a decades-long trend in decreasing funding for the Cal Grants program, California will reduce the amount of aid the state-funded program grants to college students by 11 percent during the 2014-2015 academic year. The Cal Grants program provides financial aid for low-income students enrolled in both private and public educational institutions in California. 

The cut will reduce the maximum grant to $8,056, which, according to the Los Angeles Times, is the lowest it has been in 16 years. This comes a year after the state cut the program by 6 percent. 

Although the cuts will affect many California high school students, the directors of financial aid for Claremont McKenna College, Scripps College, and Pitzer College all confirmed to TSL that the schools will absorb the cuts to 2014-2015 Cal Grant recipients for both entering and returning students. The Offices of Financial Aid at Pomona College and Harvey Mudd College were not available for comment.

Scripps Director of Financial Aid Rhonda Risser said that it is unlikely that something like that the cuts would ever become steep enough for the college to begin charging students from California the difference

“Because we meet all demonstrated financial need and we have a set loan and work-study amount, the remaining need is met with Scripps grants, meaning that no student that demonstrates financial need will have to carry the burden of state financial aid cuts,” she said.

Jose Ruiz PO '16, a recipient of Cal Grants, said that he was “mystified” that the state decided to cut grants for private schools, but, like Scripps, Pomona will cover any aid that will be cut from the program.

However, Ruiz expressed concern for low-income students attending private institutions that do not meet 100 percent of financial need. 

“The main problems arising from these cuts will be felt by the majority of other private schools that don’t have as large of an endowment such as Pomona or any of the other 5Cs have,” he said. “Schools that aren’t 'need-blind' and can’t cover the financial need that some of their low-income students have will definitely feel the impact stemming from these cuts, and students will suffer greatly from it.”

Ruiz was considering attending another private institution in California during his senior year of high school before he was admitted to Pomona. If the Cal Grants cuts had occurred during this time, Ruiz said that he might not have been able to attend the other private institution, which does not meet full financial need.

“If these cuts were in place when I had to decide where to go to college, I would have had to seriously consider ... [falling] back upon the UC [University of California] or CSU [California State University] system, which would probably be cheaper,” he said.

Ruiz also said that he would not be alone in making such a decision. For him, cutting back funding for Cal Grants to save state money is counterintuitive.

“Reducing [state] aid for private schools will increase people trying to enroll into UCs and CSUs, which are more expensive in terms of the state budget,” he said.

Santa Clara University President Michael E. Engh also criticized the cuts to the program in a March 10 op-ed for the Los Angeles Times.

“The cuts to Cal Grants were a shortsighted patch to the state budget when the economy was in dire straits,” Engh wrote. “By making it possible for students to attend private institutions as well as public ones, the grants have reduced enrollment pressure on California's public colleges and universities. Not only does the state save by not having to subsidize these students in its public schools, but it also doesn't have to build additional campuses to accommodate more students.” 

Engh is not alone in his fight against the cuts. The University of La Verne’s Campus Times reported earlier this month that the school’s president, Devorah Lieberman, along with several La Verne students, met with state legislators in March “to protest another cut in Cal Grants.” 

La Verne’s delegation was part of “A Day in the Capitol,” an event hosted by the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities. According to the article, 46 percent of La Verne’s entering class for the 2013-2014 school year received Cal Grant funding.

Jesse Hernandez, a college guidance counselor at Chaffey High School in Ontario, Calif., said in an interview with TSL that the cuts in the Cal Grants program have seriously undermined his students’ ability to attend four-year private institutions.

“The percentage of our school on reduced or free lunch is about 80 percent, which means that the vast majority of our students heavily depend on scholarships and grants like the Cal Grants,” he said. “These cuts are going to end up sending many of our students to community colleges and go on from there.”

According to Hernandez, there is not much that either the school or the students can do at this point besides contact their state representatives.

“We told students to call their representatives, but we haven’t as a school done anything to send up to Sacramento or Washington,” he said. “It’s hard as a high school student to effectively organize and push for such demands. I just hope our students find a way to somehow make it through these roadblocks.”