California Assembly Proposes Cal Grant Reform Bill to Expand Post-Secondary Education Accessibility

On Feb. 19, California State Assembly member Jose Medina and the California Student Aid Commission proposed Cal Grant Reform Assembly Bill 1456 to increase post-secondary educational accessibility for low-income groups including older students, adult learners, students who are parents, and students of color. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and California’s subsequent economic recession, two bills intending to reform the Cal Grant system — AB 1314 and SB 291 — were withdrawn last year in March. CSAC was directed to craft a new, less ambitious bill within the Cal Grant’s previous budget. According to CSAC, under the proposed AB 1456, community college students’ Cal Grant eligibility would grow from 124,000 to 279,000 students.

AB 1456 would implement a new system where age will no longer determine eligibility and GPA requirements will be loosened. Under this new system, Cal Grants will depend primarily on financial need. In an effort to simplify the process, the bill proposes the eradication of the A, B, and C categories and the implementation of a binary system: Cal Grant 2 for community college students and Cal Grant 4 for four-year university students.

With the expansion of Cal Grants, individual student awards will decrease. If AB 1456 is passed, Cal Grants will only cover tuition costs for students at four year institutions and provide them no living stipends whatsoever. Students at four-year universities will be forced to depend on Pell Grants, Institutional Grants, or outside scholarships and resources to meet living costs.

In an email, the University of California Office of the President shared that they do not yet have a fixed position on the bill. 

“The University of California continues to broadly support the California Student Aid Commission and various legislative proposals to modernize and expand the Cal Grant program,” the email stated. “As AB 1456 was just introduced, we will continue to carefully review its specifics to see how it may help increase affordability for students.”

Assembly member and Chair of the state’s Committee on Higher Education Medina said he and other lawmakers are still in discussion with UC and CSU regarding the bill. 

Generation Up (or GenUp) is a nationwide, student-led educational advocacy organization based in California. In an interview with The Guardian, Sixth College freshman, GenUp Collegiate UCSD President, and GenUp National Chief of Staff Genavieve Koenigshofer shared her perspective on the proposed bill.

“I think we still have a long way to go, in any regard, to adequately address issues of educational inequality. I don’t think there’s a single piece of legislation that could fix that, but we are certainly moving in the right direction with AB 1456,” Koenigshofer said.

The current Cal Grant system determines eligibility by looking at a student’s GPA, financial need, and age. A student’s GPA must be above a 3.0 if they are matriculating directly from high school, or above a 2.4 if they’re transferring to a four-year institution from community college. Additionally, their family income must be less than $50,000 and they must be less than one year out of high school when applying for the grant.

The Cal Grant system currently offers three types of grants: Cal Grant A, B, and C. Cal Grant A covers a portion of tuition and fees for students attending four-year institutions. 

For the first year, Cal Grant B students only receive a living stipend of $1,656. For the next three years of their education, the grant continues to provide the $1,656 living stipend and covers a portion of the tuition costs. Students at two year and four year postsecondary institutions are eligible for Grant B. Grants A and B are available to students pursuing their education at both public or private institutions. However, amounts may vary for students in private schools. 

Cal Grant C provides a living stipend of $1,094 and covers a portion of tuition for students pursuing occupational or technical programs at community colleges. 

Students who do not meet the GPA requirements or are more than one year out of high school are ineligible for the traditional A, B, and C Grants. Ineligible older students are placed into a different category where they must apply for Cal Grant Competitive Awards. According to CSAC, only 41,000 of these awards are available annually. 

Under proposed AB 1456, the grants would be converted to “Cal Grant 2” and “Cal Grant 4” in an effort to streamline the financial aid process. Grant eligibility would depend mainly on a student’s demonstrated financial need with lower GPA requirements. Age would no longer bar older students applying for Cal Grants. 

Koenigshofer shared how eliminating the age requirement, which has previously barred older students from receiving Cal Grants, might enable them to pursue higher education more confidently. 

“It’s the same thing with the age requirement. A lot of students have maybe had to take time off to take care of their families, to work, to figure out what they want to do with their lives, and it’s not really fair as the current system stands, to have them penalized for that,” Koenigshofer said. “So, removing the age requirement will definitely make college more accessible, even for students who take a break coming out of high school.”

Cal Grant 2 would be available to low-income community college students whose family income is less than $50,000, with no GPA or age constraints. Cal Grant 2 would cover tuition costs and provide a living stipend of about $1,250 in the first year, down from the $1,656 stipend that Cal Grant B students receive currently. Living stipends for other years would depend on fund availability.  

Cal Grant 4 would be available to students whose family income is less than $50,000 and meet a 2.0 GPA requirement. However, Cal Grant 4 would not provide students with living stipends and only cover tuition costs.

Koenigshofer elaborated on how the loosened GPA requirement might affect low-income student accessibility to higher education. 

“The minimum GPA requirement in particular, has been really damaging to marginalized and low income communities,” Koenigshofer continued. “They don’t have the same opportunities to access resources, tutors, or higher-end schools. By removing that GPA requirement, we are allowing students to reach their full potential.” 

The bill needs to be voted through the Assembly before reaching the state Senate.

On Feb. 19, California State Assembly member Jose Medina and the California Student Aid Commission proposed Cal Grant Reform Assembly Bill 1456 to increase post-secondary educational accessibility for low-income groups including older students, adult learners, students who are parents, and students of color. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and California’s subsequent economic recession, two bills intending to reform the Cal Grant system — AB 1314 and SB 291 — were withdrawn last year in March. CSAC was directed to craft a new, less ambitious bill within the Cal Grant’s previous budget. According to CSAC, under the proposed AB 1456, community college students’ Cal Grant eligibility would grow from 124,000 to 279,000 students.

AB 1456 would implement a new system where age will no longer determine eligibility and GPA requirements will be loosened. Under this new system, Cal Grants will depend primarily on financial need. In an effort to simplify the process, the bill proposes the eradication of the A, B, and C categories and the implementation of a binary system: Cal Grant 2 for community college students and Cal Grant 4 for four-year university students.

With the expansion of Cal Grants, individual student awards will decrease. If AB 1456 is passed, Cal Grants will only cover tuition costs for students at four year institutions and provide them no living stipends whatsoever. Students at four-year universities will be forced to depend on Pell Grants, Institutional Grants, or outside scholarships and resources to meet living costs.

In an email, the University of California Office of the President shared that they do not yet have a fixed position on the bill. 

“The University of California continues to broadly support the California Student Aid Commission and various legislative proposals to modernize and expand the Cal Grant program,” the email stated. “As AB 1456 was just introduced, we will continue to carefully review its specifics to see how it may help increase affordability for students.”

Assembly member and Chair of the state’s Committee on Higher Education Medina said he and other lawmakers are still in discussion with UC and CSU regarding the bill. 

Generation Up (or GenUp) is a nationwide, student-led educational advocacy organization based in California. In an interview with The Guardian, Sixth College freshman, GenUp Collegiate UCSD President, and GenUp National Chief of Staff Genavieve Koenigshofer shared her perspective on the proposed bill.

“I think we still have a long way to go, in any regard, to adequately address issues of educational inequality. I don’t think there’s a single piece of legislation that could fix that, but we are certainly moving in the right direction with AB 1456,” Koenigshofer said.

The current Cal Grant system determines eligibility by looking at a student’s GPA, financial need, and age. A student’s GPA must be above a 3.0 if they are matriculating directly from high school, or above a 2.4 if they’re transferring to a four-year institution from community college. Additionally, their family income must be less than $50,000 and they must be less than one year out of high school when applying for the grant.

The Cal Grant system currently offers three types of grants: Cal Grant A, B, and C. Cal Grant A covers a portion of tuition and fees for students attending four-year institutions. 

For the first year, Cal Grant B students only receive a living stipend of $1,656. For the next three years of their education, the grant continues to provide the $1,656 living stipend and covers a portion of the tuition costs. Students at two year and four year postsecondary institutions are eligible for Grant B. Grants A and B are available to students pursuing their education at both public or private institutions. However, amounts may vary for students in private schools. 

Cal Grant C provides a living stipend of $1,094 and covers a portion of tuition for students pursuing occupational or technical programs at community colleges. 

Students who do not meet the GPA requirements or are more than one year out of high school are ineligible for the traditional A, B, and C Grants. Ineligible older students are placed into a different category where they must apply for Cal Grant Competitive Awards. According to CSAC, only 41,000 of these awards are available annually. 

Danielle Raudenbush, UCSD Sociology Professor and researcher on social inequalities among marginalized communities, commented on issues of educational affordability as addressed by the Cal Grant. 

“In order to adequately address issues of inequality and accessibility in education, I think we need to think about affordability in a more holistic way. While programs like the Cal Grant system have many benefits, there are also drawbacks, one being that financial support is awarded on an individual level. Such programs leave many people out, including students who have worked hard throughout their educational careers and are truly in need of such support.”

Raudenbush noted that different strategies might be useful in increasing student educational access on a system level. 

“Moving forward we should consider how we can make education more affordable on a system level and in a way that allows anyone who wants to attain a higher level of education to be able to do so,” said Raudenbush.

Under proposed AB 1456, the grants would be converted to “Cal Grant 2” and “Cal Grant 4” in an effort to streamline the financial aid process. Grant eligibility would depend mainly on a student’s demonstrated financial need with lower GPA requirements. Age would no longer bar older students applying for Cal Grants. 

Koenigshofer shared how eliminating the age requirement, which has previously barred older students from receiving Cal Grants, might enable them to pursue higher education more confidently. 

“It’s the same thing with the age requirement. A lot of students have maybe had to take time off to take care of their families, to work, to figure out what they want to do with their lives, and it’s not really fair as the current system stands, to have them penalized for that,” Koenigshofer said. “So, removing the age requirement will definitely make college more accessible, even for students who take a break coming out of high school.”

Cal Grant 2 would be available to low-income community college students whose family income is less than $50,000, with no GPA or age constraints. Cal Grant 2 would cover tuition costs and provide a living stipend of about $1,250 in the first year, down from the $1,656 stipend that Cal Grant B students receive currently. Living stipends for other years would depend on fund availability.  

Cal Grant 4 would be available to students whose family income is less than $50,000 and meet a 2.0 GPA requirement. However, Cal Grant 4 would not provide students with living stipends and only cover tuition costs.

Koenigshofer elaborated on how the loosened GPA requirement might affect low-income student accessibility to higher education. 

“The minimum GPA requirement in particular, has been really damaging to marginalized and low income communities,” Koenigshofer continued. “They don’t have the same opportunities to access resources, tutors, or higher-end schools. By removing that GPA requirement, we are allowing students to reach their full potential.” 

The bill needs to be voted through the Assembly before reaching the state Senate. 

Photo courtesy of Best Western Plus Sutter House.

This article was updated on Mar. 8, 2021 at 1:40 PM to include comment from UCSD Professor Danielle Raudenbush.

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