USF Students Join the Fight to Save Cal Grants

On March 2, 2010 students from various colleges gathered at the state Capitol in Sacramento to address the proposed budget cuts to the Cal Grants financial aid program. Currently the state legislature is considering a budget proposal from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The budget proposal will significantly cut back on Cal Grants. The Cal Grant program provides various grant types and amounts to moderate-income students attending college.

The funding students receive from the Cal Grant program is determined by different factors. Some of these factors include student grades, family income levels, age, type of school, as well as the timing of their applications. Only about one third of students who apply for Cal Grant meet the criteria and receive funds.

According to the state, this proposed budget would essentially cut any new grants to community college students by 45% or about 18,500 students this upcoming fall. University of California students would also be affected, with about 700 eligible students denied a Cal Grant.

A breakdown of statistics shows that 2,000 students in the California State Universities, 1,200 students attending private institutions, and 3,000 students attending career colleges would be affected.

Toure Clark, a junior majoring in psychology at USF, attended the lobbying at the State’s Capitol. Clark is attending USF with no financial support from family and relies heavily on scholarships and grants, such as the Cal Grant.

Photo Courtesy of Norman Caito USF students Steffi Liem and Toure Clark pose with USF financial aid director Norman Caito in the State Capitol building in Sacramento.

Clark said he personally relies heavily on the Cal Grant to be able to attend USF. Clark was homeless for six years and has not financial assistance from family members, without government assistance such as the Cal Grant his dreams of becoming a graduate student would simply cease to exist.

The impacts of Cal Grant budget cuts will greatly affect many students at USF. There is somewhat of an underlying perception that at USF, students get their financial needs met by their parents. While this is sometimes true, there are also many students at USF who are receiving grants, financial aids, and scholarships in order to attend USF and get their college degrees.

USF is a current member of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU). AICCU organizes yearly a day for students to go to Sacramento and lobby for Cal Grant. This is an opportunity for not only students, but also administrators of colleges and universities in California a chance to lobby state legislators, giving them a voice to protect and stand for the funding rights for the Cal Grant program. The states legislators also take testimonial letters from people during the lobbying events. These letters are in hopes of persuading legislators to pass a bill or not.

Norman Caito Director of USF Financial Aid, works directly with students and had first hand participation with the lobbying event this past week. Norman Caito personally invited students to join him and other USF Financial Aid Administrators at USF to go to the State Capitol. Caito also asked student from USF to participate in writing testimonial letter to take to the legislators in Sacramento. Caito said, “I am hopeful that the senators and assembly we met with will read each one to get a better picture of how this important program has made a USF education possible for these students, how grateful they are to have the program available to them, and how they could be affected if they lost some or all of that resource.”

The truth of the matter is that without the Cal Grant program many students simply will not be able to attend college, especially expensive private universities such as USF. Cal Grant is an opportunity for students and helps many students yearly to attend colleges that would otherwise be out of their price range. Caito also expressed his deep concerns for the students that attend USF, and how he strongly feels that without Cal Grants, most students at USF would realistically not be able to attend USF.

Caito noted, “I think all students should be passionate about the right to seek affordable education, and should fight to keep doors open not only for themselves, but for those who come after them.”

Students, parents, teachers, administrations, and countless family members all came to lobby and speak to senators and assembly members to make a stand for what they felt was right. The outcome of the lobbying and protests has yet to be seen although for most that attended support from the legislators was recognized. Even though this support was seen, there is still no guarantee for keeping the Cal Grant funding at its current level.

Primary reasoning behind cutting the Cal Grant funding is due to the state’s financial trouble. According to State Senators and Assembly members, they are faced with two radical budget cuts. Either they take away funding from healthcare, or they make budget cuts from educational programs such as Cal Grant. With these two options it is clear that a decision is difficult and a solution is desperately needed. Even with this day of lobbying in Sacramento it will clearly take more than one day to really make concrete change.

For those that attended, some noted the experience as being an eye opener about the democratic process: the ability to go to the State’s Capitol to address Senators and Assembly members is a way for Americans to have their opinions and voices heard, in the hopes of changes.

Legislators stated  statistics that resonated in the thoughts of many during this event. Clark said that one comment really hit home for him, and opened his eyes towards what Cal Grant really means for many. He said, “One of the senators said, every time that $1 is put into Cal Grant, the state gets $3 they have invested.” This statistic really exemplified to him the importance of education for the future.

Due to the tremendous number of people that attended this event and spoke out against Cal Grant budget cuts, it is clearly seen college campuses across the state are ready to actively speak out for their education.

In order to reach educational goals, numerous amounts of students rely on Cal Grant funding among other supportive methods to pay for college. Despite the current recession and state budget crisis, many believe education should remain a top priority. USF students and staff are just a few of the many fighting for that belief.

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