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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLADance Disassembled: Seeing Beyond the Curtain

Governor proposes to end Cal Grants

By Max Schneider

June 2, 2009 9:16 p.m.

When Salomon Hossein’s mother lost her job during his second year at UCLA, he was forced to take out a Cal Grant to pay for his education.

But if a proposed budget cut is passed by state legislators, the third-year international development studies and political science student may have to cover the costs himself.

On May 28, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed phasing out California state support for the Cal Grant program, due to the state’s $21.3 billion budget deficit.

Cal Grants are state-sponsored aid packages that offer financial support to some 7,000 students at UCLA, said Ronald W. Johnson, the director of financial aid.

Schwarzenegger’s plan includes eliminating funding of Cal Grants for new college students and ending the practice of raising Cal Grants for current students based on rising student fees, said Diana Fuentes-Michel, the executive director of the California Student Aid Commission, the state agency that distributes Cal Grants.

The plan could be implemented as early as the 2009 fall quarter and will be decided by the state Congress’s budget, which is to be finalized by July 1.

To combat this proposal, a group of students working out of External Vice President Susan Li’s office formed the Save Cal Grants coalition and sent a student delegation to Sacramento on June 1 to testify in front of a group of state legislators.

“We were putting a face to the issue and (showing) a student’s perspective,” said Li, who said she would face a financial burden if her Cal Grant is not increased to match next year’s tuition hikes.

The Cal Grant program started in 2001 as an entitlement program of the state and expanded rapidly to reach over 300,000 recipients in 2009, Fuentes-Michel said.

UCLA receives over $46 million from students paying their fees with Cal Grants, Johnson said.

He added that if this funding source is cut from the pockets of the low-income students who need them, the university would have to make up this funding by redistributing the aid that it allocates to other students with financial need.

In addition, the university would raise the amount of work and borrowing that a student would have to incur, known as the self-help level, which is currently at $8,900, Johnson said.

“If Cal Grants were eliminated, … (self-help levels) would probably go up to $9,600 dollars (next year),” Johnson said, adding that they could shoot up to $16,000 if Cal Grants were to be fully phased out in three years.

But taking out loans in a stringent economic environment may prove difficult for some and could lead to less enrollment among low-income students at four-year universities, Johnson said.

“This is a very, very horrific situation and it could have significant ramifications, not just to the students but to the whole state of California,” Johnson said.

UCLA administrators are working to urge legislators to keep Cal Grants alive.

Ricardo Vazquez, a spokesman for the UC Office of the President, said that UC President Mark G. Yudof testified before the state Joint Legislative Budget Committee, advising them that cutting Cal Grants for the next school year is not fair to students.

“Given the severity of this proposal and the reliance that students have made on promises of aid in accepting the UC, the president believes that this action requires more knowledge,” Vazquez said. “He urged the legislators to reject it for 2009-10.”

He said that the recession would require the university, as well as the state, to make some hard decisions.

“We need to be part of the solution to solve the state’s fiscal crisis but given the magnitude of the cuts proposed, it would require us to consider extremely painful options,” Vazquez said.

But Hossein, who will have to take out loans or acquire an extra job in order to replenish his Cal Grant, said that cutting educational support would not solve any problems.

“This is not addressing the root of the problem and it’s also hurting the people who are affected the most by the issue,” he said.

“The most disadvantaged in society are being kicked to the curb once again in light of the budget concerns were facing. It’s salt in our wounds,” he added.

The founders of Save Cal Grants echoed this sentiment, saying that investing in education is the only way to lift an economy out of a recession.

“When you start losing the educated work force, … you’ll see a real decline in the number of businesses in the state and the growth of the economy,” said Matt Stevens, a first-year economics student who helped found the coalition.

Stevens and Sonya Mehta, a third-year political science student and another founding coalition member, said that it will work to directly lobby legislators through further trips to Sacramento, large-scale phone banks and online tactics on Facebook.

“We’re trying to grow our network and when the time comes, we’re going to have a huge base of students who are willing to do whatever necessary,” Mehta said.

Hossein said that recipients of Cal Grants are often among the most active and politically engaged students, especially on UCLA’s campus, and that taking on the burden of extra jobs and loans may diminish their passion to stay involved.

“We are the future of this state and nation,” Hossein said. “(Without Cal Grants), some of the most active and passionate students in the state may lose that drive, where they can no longer be the key out of another recession.”

For more information see fao.ucla.edu

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