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Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget revision can tighten Cal Grant requirements

By Suzy Strutner

May 25, 2012 2:36 a.m.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget revision for next year would make Cal Grant requirements more stringent, which could substantially restrict access to financial aid for 80,000 University of California students, officials said.

Released earlier this month, the budget revision proposes to alter Cal Grant distribution, bringing it more in line with that of federal Pell Grants.

Currently, all students who qualify for Cal Grants are awarded full UC tuition. Under the new system, a student’s level of aid would be determined by their family’s ability to contribute to a college education, depending on income level.

The changes would affect students who apply for Cal Grants after July 2012.

At UCLA, the proposals would cause about 874 potential recipients to no longer qualify for a Cal Grant, said Ronald Johnson, director of the UCLA Financial Aid Office. In addition, nearly 3,000 UCLA students who qualify for aid, most of them middle class, would receive only a fraction of full tuition, he added.

The governor proposed the changes, which would decrease the amount of financial aid the state provides for students, as a way to compensate for the state’s nearly $16 billion budget deficit, said H.D. Palmer, deputy director of external affairs at the California Department of Finance.

The California Student Aid Commission, which distributes Cal Grants, released a statement opposing the changes last week. The proposed system would eliminate critical access to aid for University of California students in financial need, according to the statement.

“We’re in a time when people need every dollar of aid they can get,” said Ed Emerson, the commission’s chief of federal policy and programs. “(The revision) is shifting the burden of increased cost from institutions to students, asking them to come up with more money.”

Most of the students that would be affected by this change to the Cal Grants would be middle-class.

To make up for the proposed loss of funding to upper middle-class students, some UC student organizers are lobbying the UC Board of Regents for the installment of more middle-class student scholarships.

“This is not something we’re going to stay silent over,” said Lana Habib El-Farra, the external vice president for the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council and a second-year political science student. “We’re definitely going to (continue to) lobby.”

In January, Brown also proposed increasing the GPA requirement for Cal Grant recipients as part of his budget proposal. Starting in the 2012-2013 school year, minimum GPA would be raised from 2.0 to 2.75 for Cal Grant B applicants and 3.0 to 3.25 for Cal Grant A applicants.

The changes to GPA requirements, which were also opposed in the commission’s statement, remained in the governor’s revised budget.

Palmer said strong data shows that a lower GPA going into college means that a student is less likely to get a degree.

“We’re trying to direct our limited resources to students who are more likely to graduate,” Palmer said.

Judy Heiman, an analyst at the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, said the change may be too sudden of an increase in standards. The analyst’s office has suggested a gradual phasing in of the GPA requirement change in order to give applicants enough time to boost their high school performance and qualify for aid.

California legislators have already expressed criticism of January’s original budget proposal and the revised version released this month, Heiman said.

Heiman said she anticipates Brown’s revised proposal will undergo many more changes before a finalized version is approved on July 1.

“(Critics say) that these changes will reduce affordability for needy students, and the governor doesn’t like that either,” she said. “It’s just that the state is hugely in the red, and (Brown is) trying to spread the pain rather than put it all in one place.”

Contributing reports by Samantha Masunaga, Bruin senior staff.

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