“Putting it simply, California is on the mend.” These were some of the first words of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Jan. 18 State of the State address. Based on the address, we can infer that funding is a top priority for the governor and California right now. Later in Brown’s speech, he mentioned last year’s deficit of $20 billion and assured California residents that cuts and tax increases were temporary and necessary.
“In a world still reeling from the near collapse of the financial system, it makes no sense to spend more than we have,” Brown said.
But also included in his address was a proposal to raise the bar for the grade point average (GPA) necessary to be eligible for a Cal Grant, a part of the California Student Aid Program in California that provides aid to California undergraduates. The minimum GPA was raised from 3.0 to 3.25 for larger Cal Grant awards and from 2.4 to 2.75 for smaller awards. According to Brown’s administration, this change is expected to aid 26,600 fewer students than it has in the past, which will save the state $131 million.
Good intentions aside, this is a further attack on higher education and will lead to decreased accessibility and increased privatization of schools in California. In the name of balancing the state’s budget, Brown has effectively cut off support to a significant portion of students — students whose education he could instead be cultivating to secure the state’s future workers and entrepreneurs. This future workforce will be instrumental in digging our way out of the current financial hole.
Aside from being a misplaced attempt at addressing the financial crisis, this move is also highly classist. Students who need Cal Grant financial aid to attend college are the same students who may be working part-time on top of going to school. They may be working harder than students who don’t need supplementary jobs in order to achieve the GPA necessary for state aid. This will mean these students will have to work even harder to fund their education, and will have an even more difficult time meeting the minimum eligibility requirement. Moreover, students with access to more educational opportunities and support — often those already financially better off than others — will have yet another leg up over their peers in lower income brackets. The proposal could easily make the higher-education playing field far less even than before.
Are we supposed to be able to stomach the fact that this proposal might punish people for their financial situation, especially when such a large number of people in the state are currently suffering in the financial climate? Is higher education returning to its historical, institutional tradition of remaining accessible only to those fortunate enough to afford tuition increases or to be unaffected by this GPA requirement increase?
The nation saw George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy fail not too long ago. Enticing schools by basing funding on test scores punished schools that struggled — mainly with English as a Second Language (ESL) students — and instead of helping those students reach higher goals, the policy had the reverse effect of lowering graduation rates, according to researchers at Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin.
Do we want this proposal for raising the GPA bar to discourage students in the same way No Child Left Behind did? No. The state should stabilize its budget with more temporary tax increases and stop attacking higher education in California. Education should be a top priority, with every person having an equal opportunity to succeed — not an easy target for the Brown administration’s budget balancing, and a commodity only to be bought.