Congressman Kevin Deleon and Victor Sanchez (left), the external vice chair for UCSC’s Student Union Assembly, discussed the drastic cuts at last week’s state budget hearing. Photo by Arianna Puopolo.
Congressman Kevin Deleon and Victor Sanchez (left), the external vice chair for UCSC’s Student Union Assembly, discussed the drastic cuts at a state budget hearing in early June. Photo by Arianna Puopolo.

To fix gaps in budget, state might cut integral financial aid program

For over a month, legislators in Sacramento have been debating California’s financial future, working to balance the 2009-2010 state budget.

But some of the proposed cuts hit too close to home for California’s higher education students.

Among the myriad of proposed cuts being tossed around in Sacramento is a proposal from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that would eliminate new Cal Grants from being issued in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, effectively phasing out the program by 2011.

Should the proposal to pass, it would result in a cut of [grants?] $201 million in the 2009-2010 fiscal year and $478 million in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, according to a press release from the University of California Student Association (UCSA).

At UC Santa Cruz, the elimination of the Cal Grant program “would be a significant loss,” said Ann Draper, the director of financial aid at UCSC.

“Currently about 4,000 UCSC students receive Cal Grants and the total amount UCSC students received in 2008-09 was about $26 million. It represents 1/3 of total grant aid UCSC students receive,” she said.

The cuts to the Cal Grant go beyond just those students whom receive aid from the program.

“Eliminating the Cal Grant program would affect all students who receive grant support since UC, federal and state grants are pooled to ensure students of equal financial means receive similar grant awards at UC campuses,” Draper said. “About 7,000 undergraduates – roughly half of our undergraduates- receive grant support at UC Santa Cruz. All of these students would be impacted.”

Matthew Palm, the Commissioner of Academic Affairs (CAA) for the Student Union Assembly (SUA), believes it’s “hard to overestimate” the impact these cuts could have on UCSC students. “Cal Grants are one of the most effective programs,” Palm said referring to the efficacy of the program at getting students financial aid.

Unfortunately, options for replacing the Cal Grant remain limited. “There are no viable alternatives to offset the loss of this critical source of aid funding,” Draper said. “For reference, campus and private scholarships currently provide less than $6 million annually for our students. It would take several years and a significant effort to replace this loss.”

Palm also saw dramatic effects resulting from the slashing of Cal Grants.

“Without Cal Grants, people would be taking out a lot more loans,” he said. “Hopefully people won’t be dropping out.”

While it is unclear how long it will take for legislators in Sacramento to come to a consensus on the state budget, it is clear that the Cal Grant does have its share of supporters in the state legislature.

“We’re fighting like hell to protect it,” said Assemblymember Bill Monning (D-Santa Cruz/Monterey/Santa Clara). “Education is the future of this state and its economy.”

Monning, along with many of his Democratic colleagues, has voiced support over keeping the Cal Grant program intact. Their general proposal, however, remains under fire by Schwarzenegger and Republican leaders, whom oppose the introduction of any new taxes in this draft of the budget.

Yet the harsh reality is California’s $24 billion deficit needs to be closed somehow. “There’s no program immune from cuts,” Monning said. “There’s no magic wand, there’s no magic piggy bank.”

While lawmakers tackle the budget in Sacramento, Palm said that is will come down to how much pressure students put on the state legislature.

Both he and Draper urge students who wish to keep the Cal Grant program intact to contact their local state representatives. “We know we can do it,” Palm said. “We just gotta make it happen.”