Why would a bunch of UC Santa Barbara students dedicate two years of their lives to try and get the state to extend the Cal Grant, a state tuition-paying grant for low-income students, to cover summer courses? Simple: We at the Coalition for a Better UC, or CBUC, believe that the idea of graduating in four years is a lie for many students and that over the past four decades, the California government has been comfortable with peddling it.
CBUC has made it its priority to ensure that state legislators are aware of the Public Policy Institute of California’s ominous prediction that says if current trends persist, California’s economy will be lacking 1.1 million college graduates by the year 2030. Yet, the current trends did not come from nowhere; they came from a decision by the state government that saw defunding higher education as a convenient way to cut costs and balance its budget to the point where each UC student currently receives $15,000 less than they would have in 1976, while each CSU student has lost 25 percent in funding during the same period.
The state did this while disregarding the facts that only one in four CSU students graduates on time and that roughly 50 percent of low-income first-generation Black and brown UC students also suffer the same fate. But when UC and CSU students went to lobby the state government last year, we received insufficient aid, the majority of which was one-time funding, and we also received advice from then-governor Jerry Brown on how our universities should be more like Chipotle.
That is why when we at the CBUC say the four-year institution is a lie, unlike using cheesy metaphors about how our higher education system should be more like a burrito, our statement is based on research. It is this research that led the CBUC to partner with the UC Student Association, or UCSA, last year to push for a summer Cal Grant through AB 3153.
We looked at studies done by the federal government that showed that students who receive more aid for summer are more likely to take summer courses and graduate on time. Furthermore, both the UCs and the CSUs are at fractions of their fall enrollments in the summer. The research surrounding summer aid was so compelling that it even prompted the Republican-majority Congress under President Donald Trump to extend federal aid to summer. Yet, in spite of this action that tripled summer enrollment at some state schools, when combined with the aid from the federal government and the other grant aid that students receive, it is likely not enough to cover a student’s summer tuition and fees for eight units at a UC. This is without counting basic needs expenses such as housing, food or textbook costs.
We presented this case last year, and our advocacy was effective in getting the bill through the California State Assembly, but it ultimately failed in the Senate appropriations committee, two steps away from the governor. We failed because, in a rush to get the bill authored, we ignored the advice of the California Student Aid Commission, or CSAC, and the California State Student Association.
We started the current academic year, however, by opening conversations with the necessary organizations on how best to pursue a summer Cal Grant. From those conversations, the UC Office of the President decided to co-sponsor summer Cal Grant legislation along with the UCSA and the CBUC. The Higher Ed Coalition, which consists of the main student advocacy bodies for community colleges, CSUs and UCs, endorsed the idea of a summer Cal Grant, and the CSAC, the institution that administers California financial aid, also decided to endorse the idea. All of these efforts have culminated into SB 461, authored by state Sen. Richard Roth for the current legislative cycle.
Yet, in spite of these victories, now is not the time to be complacent. For far too long, our government has allowed systemic defunding of higher education, and it is now up to us as students, parents and concerned citizens of California to put an end to it. We must tell our legislators that we are tired of simplistic Chipotle-based solutions when evidenced-based ideas exist that can solve our looming college-graduate deficit.
That is why we call on everyone who can to fill out our petition asking Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California State Legislature to pass SB 461 to do so. We also ask that as the bill passes through the necessary committees, the concerned citizens of California make their voices heard by contacting their relevant legislators. We ask for this because failing to pass this bill would be continuing to delude ourselves that our public universities are four-year institutions when their dismal graduation rates say otherwise.
Kuvimbanashe Edwin Chikukwa is the chair of the Coalition for A Better UC.