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Student Aid Commission tries to save Cal Grants for low-income students

Posted: June 3, 2009 9:04 p.m.
Updated: June 3, 2009 9:04 p.m.
 
SACRAMENTO, June 2 (PRNewswire-USNewswire) -- In an effort to stop Governor Schwarzenegger's proposal to eliminate California's system of financial aid for low-income students, the California Student Aid Commission (Commission) asked the legislature to consider alternatives to save the Cal Grant program.

Commission Chair Barry Keene stated: "Eliminating one of the most successful programs in the history of California would require the future design and consideration of a new program. We should not lose the half-century of experience with Cal Grants. A generation of young people of working age without adequate knowledge and skills would be intolerable."

Commission Executive Director Diana Fuentes-Michel told the Budget Conference Committee, "We believe it is possible to keep our promise to California's students even during such a catastrophic budget crisis by considering alternative approaches that might include reconsideration of eligibility requirements, if absolutely necessary, and tapping revenue from the Student Loan Operating Fund to pay for the Cal Grant program."

The proposed elimination of Cal Grants would have an immediate and devastating impact on more than 200,000 of California's low income students.

In Cal Grant's 55-year history of delivering financial aid to California's students, research has proven that grant recipients succeed in higher education and life. As an example, Cal Grant A recipients re-enroll in a second year of college at a rate of 96.5 percent, while Cal Grant B students, from the poorest families with the most limited resources, re-enroll at a rate of 93 percent.

The following is text of a letter sent by the California Student Aid Commission to members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee by Commission Chairman Barry Keene on May 29:

"On behalf of the California Student Aid Commission, we write to ask you to reject the Governor's proposal to eliminate the Cal Grant Program, and, instead, carefully impose only such reductions as are absolutely necessary.

"The distinction is of the utmost importance. Eliminating one of the most successful programs in the history of California, as opposed to funding it at even a substantially reduced level, would require the future design and consideration of a new program.

"We should not lose the half-century of experience with Cal Grants. We should not need to re-educate policymakers about the need for, and economic and social value of, college access for the academically eligible but economically disadvantaged student. We should not impose a hurdle of new startup costs. A generation of young people of working age without adequate knowledge and skills would be intolerable.

"Second, we ask you to reject the Governor's proposal to eliminate the Commission and turn the future of student aid over to the Governor's appointees, the very same ones proposing to eliminate the Cal Grant Program, whose decisions would be made behind closed doors, thus eliminating the transparency, which the Commission now provides.

"We are acutely aware that the state must cut its budget severely. The painful effects will ripple through every sector of the state's population.

"However, the proposal to totally eliminate Cal Grants creates the utmost danger to the state's economic future. And the damage cannot be undone.

"At a time when California's economy demands higher skills, reducing college-going rates in California by eliminating Cal Grants will lead to higher unemployment, greater pressure on the state budget and the erosion of California's quality of life.

"It is serious enough that more than 118,000 new students who have already been offered Cal Grants for fall 2009 will be affected immediately, but the long-term adverse effects to the state's economy will be much more severe because the short-fall in higher education students will compound with each passing year.

"Against the backdrop of the proposal to eliminate the Cal Grant Program, the Administration's pretext of saving money to justify eliminating the Commission, through its cryptic version of decentralization, regresses from intellectual laziness to cynicism.  It has never made the case for actual savings.  

"This is understandable because the Commission's staffing and budgeting is one of the most efficient in government. Instead, it offers theatrics and catch phrases, like "one-stop-shop" for students. Since it proposes eliminating Cal Grants, how can we trust that it has dealt with the complexities in its purported streamlining of a program it seeks to eliminate? Moreover, if it is successful in eliminating Cal Grants, just what is there to decentralize?

"Under the guise of decentralization, the Administration is proposing to eliminate the Commission, the last bulwark against total elimination of Cal Grants.  Because it is independent, the Commission can advocate for students in the budget process and can consider students' needs when developing policies for administering the Cal Grant Program. Decisions by a state department within the line of authority of an Administration will be directed by that Administration's budget needs, rather than the needs of students.

"The proposal to eliminate the Cal Grant Program is a salient example of this Administration's approach to solving its budget needs at the expense of student needs. The contrast between the Administration's approach and the Commission's approach of exploring options to achieve similar Cal Grant savings while maintaining much of the long-term benefits for the state's economic future, could not be more starkly illustrated.

"The Commission must make policy decisions in meetings open to the public.

"The Administration makes decisions behind closed doors. Further, the Legislature's ability to affect Cal Grant policy through its appointees to the Commission provides a check and balance that would not be possible if the Cal Grant Program were decentralized and placed in a state agency directly within the Administration's line of authority.

"This Administration has clearly established its intent for the Cal Grant Program: elimination. Decentralization would enable the Administration to achieve that major policy shift bureaucratically under cover of darkness."

Sincerely,
Barry Keene, Chair
California Student Aid Commission

 

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