Within weeks, thousands of low-income, academically meritorious college students from all types of institutions across California will find out if they could requalify for a Cal Grant, which can make a huge difference in their ability to attend and succeed in college.
By signing Assembly Bill 1287 (Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton), Gov. Jerry Brown has the power to help former Cal Grant recipients who meet eligibility requirements realize their dreams of a college education.
As supporters of AB 1287 -- which has received broad-based backing from a variety of higher education, social justice, and civil rights groups -- we strongly urge Brown to sign it into law.
The Cal Grant program is crucial to ensuring that thousands of students have the ability to continue pursuing their dreams. With the cost to attend college increasing, more and more students are being forced out of public higher education. The Cal Grant program is an essential lifeline for many students in the higher education system.
To receive a Cal Grant, applicants must meet multiple tests of economic need: their family income and assets must fall below specified thresholds, and they must also have "financial need" as defined by a federal formula.
Before the 2011-12 school year, new Cal Grant applicants whose family income and assets fell below the program's thresholds at the time they applied could generally receive a Cal Grant for up to four years, provided they continued to have financial need. Beginning in the 2011-12 school year, a change in statute now requires that Cal Grant recipients meet income and asset criteria every year they renew their grant.
An unintended consequence of this change is that a Cal Grant recipient who is disqualified for a single year due to a bump in family income is banned from receiving a Cal Grant ever again, even when their income drops below the thresholds in subsequent years.
Even very small and temporary increases in income or assets, such as a short-term increase in work hours, can result in a low-income student at the University of California losing more than $12,000 in state grant aid.
For Louise Cabansay, a junior at UC Santa Cruz, "Getting a Cal Grant means the difference between going to UC and skipping college altogether. But now, a tiny increase in my father's income for one year means I lose my grant forever."
In fact, the California Student Aid Commission reported that last year there were 1,218 students who lost their entire Cal Grant because their earnings grew by less than $1,000. Losing thousands of dollars in financial aid in the middle of college attendance -- due solely to temporary and small income growth -- can have devastating effects on the education and success of California's students.
AB 1287 corrects this inequity by allowing otherwise eligible former Cal Grant recipients to requalify for grants in subsequent years, if they again meet income and asset criteria. This legislation provides deserving low-income students with the financial aid they need not only to attend, but complete college.
The bill supports state efforts to increase the proportion of Californians with college degrees and corrects an unintended quirk in state law.
Kareem Aref is president of the UC Student Association, Sarah Couch is president of the California State Student Association and Rich Copenhagen is president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges.