Cal Grant funding could be decreased or cut

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A proposal made by Gov. Jerry Brown in his May Revise could significantly decrease Cal Grant funding and leave some students without grant aid.

Brown’s  recently published revised budget proposal — informally called the May Revise — proposes that eligibility for the Cal Grant be tied to eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant. Diana Fuentes-Michel, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission, said the change could leave 37 percent of new financial aid recipients in 2013-14 with reduced or no Cal Grant aid.

Cal Grant A recipients currently receive full funding to cover systemwide tuition at the UC and CSU, and eligibility is not affected by whether the recipient also receives a Federal Pell Grant.

If the change is implemented, students would be awarded full or partial grant amounts based on GPA, financial eligibility and Pell Grant eligibility.

According to Judy Heiman, a principal fiscal and policy analyst for the Legislative Analyst’s Office, of the 37 percent who would be affected by the shift, 6 percent would lose their Cal Grants and 31 percent would see their Cal Grant amount reduced.

A UC Office of the President report indicated that 6,613 students at UC Berkeley received Cal Grants A and B in the academic year 2010-11.  In that year at the Berkeley campus alone, $67,723,879 in Cal Grants were awarded.

However, Heiman said the methodology change could be seen as more logical than the previous method of Cal Grant dispersal in which the entirety of student fees was covered for eligible Cal Grant recipients.

“That sort of system where you award all-or-nothing has problems, and this addresses that by essentially reducing the amount of grants so that the most needy students get full grants,” Heiman said.

Heiman said that while the change could address issues inherent in the current system, it could also lead to some students incurring more debt because of a lack of financial aid. She added that it could also lead to students being unprotected from fee increases because Cal Grant awards will not necessarily increase as fees go up.

The proposal precedes a meeting in July at which the UC Board of Regents will discuss the possibility of raising student fees by 6 percent.

UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said in an email that the withdrawal of some Cal Grants affect financial aid awards for many undergraduates even if their own awards were not decreased because the UC taps into all available funding sources when distributing aid.

“When the grant pool shrinks, a relatively small amount of belt tightening is required of all grant-eligible UC students,” Klein said.

Klein added that the UC will work toward counteracting the possible cut to the Cal Grant program and easing the impact on students who lose the grant.

“UC will spread the financial ‘pain’ around equally to other grant-eligible students so that the effects on those who lose Cal Grants are not so dramatic,” she said.