Today, more than 7 million students, including 39 percent of Bruins, rely on Federal Pell Grants to help pay for college. However, Congress has proposed a $3.3 billion cut to Pell Grant funding for the 2018 fiscal year.
This is unacceptable. We, the Financial Support Commission of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, are partnering with the California Public Interest Research Group and the USAC External Vice President’s office to advocate for the retention and expansion of existing forms of aids and grants – specifically Pell and Cal Grants.
And we need students to help us out in our endeavor.
The Pell Grant program is a need-based federal grant program that aims to help low-income undergraduate students. Unlike loans, Pell Grants do not need to be repaid. Eligibility is determined by completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a form that is filled out annually by current or prospective college students to determine their eligibility for student financial aid based on their expected family contribution, enrollment status and the cost of institution the student is attending.
University of California tuition has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, and Bruins rely heavily on Pell Grants to decrease the financial burden of a UC education. A cut to this grant program would be detrimental to the financial stability of UCLA students. We students need to reach out to our elected officials like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat from California, – who has a major voice in the future of the federal budget – to address this issue and protect students’ federal financial aid.
On Oct. 20, CALPIRG organized the “Raise Hell for Pell!” event, which asked students on Bruin Walk to sign petitions against the proposal to cut Pell Grant funding and raise awareness through social media to inform Feinstein of our concerns. FSC created a brief video from this initiative of several UCLA students who shared their personal stories about how Pell Grants have benefited their academic college careers.
For example, Samuel Garcia, a UCLA graduate student and former UCLA undergraduate, shared his story of how the Pell Grant helped him pay for his education.
“Whether it was worrying about what I was going to eat the next day or how I was going to pay for books that cost up to almost $1,000, the Pell Grant stepped in to fill that gap and offered me a sense of comfort that let me focus on my education,” Garcia said. “Please keep the Pell Grant alive.”
In addition to Pell Grants, we are also advocating for an increase in the number of Cal Grants offered to UCLA students. The Cal Grant program is a state-run, need-based financial aid program, and eligibility is determined by either the FAFSA or the California Dream Act Application, a form that allows students enrolled in eligible California colleges, universities or career education programs to apply for state financial aid. Cal Grants do not need to be paid back, and they help cover all or a portion of students’ tuition and fees for those attending a four-year college in California. They are essential to Bruins’ financial stabilities, but there are not enough Cal Grants to award to all students who would otherwise qualify.
According to the California Postsecondary Education Commission and California’s Department of Finance, state investment in UC schools has decreased by roughly $13,000 per student in the past 15 years. The costs of tuition and fees for UC students are strikingly unaffordable. We students need to show our elected officials that it is unacceptable to cut funding that benefits our education.
On Thursday, the FSC office answered questions at Kerckhoff patio about Pell and Cal Grants to students who stopped by for more information. Additionally, on Dec. 1, Aaron Boudaie, USAC financial support commissioner, and Chloe Pan, USAC external vice president, will be holding a phone banking event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Kerckhoff patio to pressure our U.S. Sens. Feinstein and Kamala Harris, as well as our local House representative Congressman Ted Lieu to support and save Pell Grants. And, at the state level, we will ask state Sen. Ben Allen and Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas to expand the number of Cal Grants.
Students should also personally reach out to Feinstein through social media and push her to speak up and protect students’ federal financial aid by advocating for the protection of Pell Grants.
Besides Pell and Cal Grants, there are a variety of local scholarships offered to UCLA students. FSC has created a collaborative scholarship document posted on our Facebook page, and students can also find a list of available scholarships on the MyUCLA scholarship portal, as well as at the Scholarship Resource Center, which is located in Covel Commons 233.
We students need to come together to fight for the continuation of university financial aid. Be it through our Facebook page, the USAC Financial Support Commission or other avenues, we hope that you’ll help us expand on our “Bruins for Affordability” platform, and join us in advocating for affordability across UCLA.
Srivastava is a second-year biology student, and a member of the USAC FSC office.