Proposed legislation would increase state financial aid for California private college students

Multiple people wearing backpacks and mask walk along a walkway surrounded by trees.
The five undergraduate Claremont Colleges provide financial aid with a combination of institutional, state, federal and external funding. (Caelyn Smith • The Student Life)

A pending California Senate bill would increase the amount of state financial aid available to California residents studying at the 5Cs and other private colleges, though the amount of aid students receive may not change at institutions that already meet one hundred percent of financial need.

California’s A and B “Cal Grants” are the state’s main form of financial aid to low- and middle-income students, offering competitive grants to students at community colleges, state schools (the California State University system and the University of California system) and private schools that meet student loan default rate and graduation rate requirements.

The Cal Grant A helps pay for tuition and fees for educational programs that are at least two academic years long, while the Cal Grant B acts as a living and education-related expenses stipend for educational programs at least one year long.

Currently, Cal Grant funding for private schools depends on the number of community college transfer students the school accepts.

53 eligible students at Scripps College received an average of about $9,245 per student in combined A and B Cal Grants for the 2021-22 academic year, according to Vice President for Enrollment  Victoria Romero. The college aims to accept 10 to 15 community college transfer students per year, Romero said via email.

At Pitzer College, eligible students can receive up to $9,084 per year in Cal Grant A funding and $1,656 in Cal Grant B funding. At Pomona College, Cal Grant A funding is the same, at $9,084 per student per year, while Cal Grant B funding is $1,672. At Harvey Mudd College, the maximum combined Cal Grant funding received per student in recent years has been $9,220.

Senate Bill 851, introduced in January by Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-25), proposed three primary changes to Cal Grant funding.

First, the bill would eliminate the dependency of funding available to students at private schools on how many transfer students the school accepts.

Second, the bill would require grant awards to adjust with inflation, halting the approximately 50 percent decline in grant value due to inflation since 2001, according to a fact sheet published by Portantino.

Finally, the bill would provide additional aid to eligible students with dependents at private institutions.

Because all of the 5Cs already meet one hundred percent of demonstrated financial need, an increase in Cal Grant funding would not necessarily affect the total amount of financial aid available to individual 5C students.

The five undergraduate Claremont Colleges provide financial aid with a combination of institutional, state, federal and external funding. State funding accounts for less than 5 percent of need-based financial aid across all 5C schools, and as little as 1.32 percent at Pomona.

Compared to the approximately $490,000 Scripps students received in Cal Grant aid in 2021-22, Scripps provided $2.9 million in institutional aid, Romero said via email.

At CMC, Cal Grant aid accounts for 11 to 18 percent of need-based aid for eligible students, CMC spokesperson Gilien Silsby said via email.

“With the Cal Grant covering a higher portion of the need-based financial aid, it would increase the pool of institutional funding we have to meet the need of our students,” Silsby said via email.

While the bill may not have a significant impact on the total financial aid for 5C students, it will likely increase financial aid for students at private institutions that cannot guarantee fully meeting financial need.

At the nearby University of Redlands, for example, state funding contributed to 10.36 percent of financial aid, while at the University of La Verne, state funding contributed 17.63 percent, according to the schools’ latest available Common Data Sets.

Opponents of SB 851 worry that the elimination of transfer targets will negatively impact the rates at which private institutions admit community college students as transfers.

“Changes in the Cal Grant program will not negatively impact applicants applying [to Scripps] as a transfer student from a community college,” Romero said via email. Silsby added that “we believe an increase in the Cal Grant amount for private institutions will broaden our first-year and transfer applicants from California.”

SB 851 was unanimously passed by the Senate Education Committee March 9. On April 4, the bill was placed on “suspense file” by the Senate Appropriations Committee, marking the bill to be considered alongside other substantial fiscal matters once the 2022-23 state budget is prepared in June. If passed, the bill could go into effect as early as July.

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