Despite Recent Vote, Cal Grants Still at Risk

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Despite the recent vote by a legislative committee to keep Cal Grants in the proposed 2009-10 state budget, UC officials are preparing for the possibility that students will not receive aid from the state-funded program for low-income residents next year.

The campus's financial aid office has been working for the past two weeks to inform students about how the elimination of the Cal Grant program would affect their awards, according to Cheryl Resh, director of the office.

"The loss of this program would impact every student receiving grant or scholarship aid on campus, or roughly 50 percent of our undergraduates," she said in an e-mail to more than 12,000 UC Berkeley students Wednesday.

If Cal Grants were phased out, Resh said the campus would lose $6 million from its financial aid resources for the fall-a loss that would be distributed equally among all aid recipients.

The proposal to eliminate the program, which was announced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on May 26, was rejected 6-4 by the Conference Committee on the Budget last Friday. The committee also voted down a proposal to eliminate entitlement awards for incoming students.

But Schwarzenegger, who has said tough choices need to be made to close the state's $24.3 billion deficit, could still veto the committee's decision upon approving the final budget.

"The governor obviously does not want to eliminate Cal Grants, but the state cannot spend money that it does not have right now," said Camille Anderson, a spokesperson for the governor.

The committee came to their decision after hearing testimony in support of the program from students, parents and leaders of the state's three higher education systems, including UC President Mark Yudof.

Sara Bachez, higher education consultant for the committee, said legislators recognized that discontinuing the Cal Grant program would be unfair to students who had already received a letter detailing their awards.

"For the moment ... it's a sigh of relief that you will get some kind of funding for your college costs," she said.

Yet university officials are still uncertain of whether the state's final budget will include funding for the program.

UC spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said the loss of Cal Grants would be "devastating" to the university's mission of accessibility, reducing undergraduate aid by $110 million next year.

"If Cal Grants were eliminated for incoming students, what we would try to do would be to backfill all of the Cal Grants with our limited pool of aid resources," he said. "The problem is that would be at the expense of other UC aid recipients."

According to Vazquez, a total of 46,000 UC students receive Cal Grants.

More than 7,500 UC Berkeley students received Cal Grants for the 2007-08 school year, totaling $50

million in aid, according to the

California Student Aid Commission, which administers the grants.

In a letter published Tuesday in the San Francisco Chronicle, Chair of the UC Board of Regents Richard C. Blum called Schwarzenegger's proposal to eliminate Cal Grants "unconscionable," stressing the need for Californians to continue to oppose the proposal.

"Yes, there is a yawning gap in the state budget that must be filled," he said in the letter. "Yes, cuts must be spread all around. But killing the Cal Grants program should not be part of the conversation."

Phasing out the grants would save the state $173 million for the next fiscal year and $450 million for the year after, according to Schwarzenegger's proposal.

The Cal Grant proposal is just one part of the governor's May revisions to the proposed state budget, which includes sweeping cuts to higher education. In response to the revisions, Yudof said last week that the university may increase the 9.3 percent fee hike approved last month to a 20 to 25 percent hike.

The committee has not yet voted on another proposal by the governor, which would prevent Cal Grants from expanding to cover the student fee increases.


Rachel Gross covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected]

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