POLITICO California Pro Preview: Big financial aid request 


POLITICO California Pro Preview: Big financial aid request 

BIG ASK: A couple of weeks ago, UC and CSU leaders thought they might be pressing their luck by asking the Legislature for a few hundred million more dollars.

That paled in comparison to the request the California Student Aid Commission is making.

The panel voted Thursday to seek a major overhaul in the Cal Grant financial aid system for low-income students that could reach beyond $2 billion in new costs.

The driving idea is that the state’s most disadvantaged community college students get a fraction of the aid that their counterparts at four-year universities receive because award amounts are largely based on cost of tuition. Since community college fees are miniscule – and waived – for low-income recipients, those students get shortchanged, proponents say. 

For community college students, cost of living remains a major barrier to completion, advocates said. They want Cal Grant criteria to consider overall cost of attendance rather than focus award amounts on tuition.

CSAC also voted to “remove or reduce eligibility and access barriers” to qualify for Cal Grants. That would potentially waive some GPA restrictions and open grants to students who take time off after high school. Commissioners seemed to agree that age restrictions don’t work in a 21st Century economy where nontraditional students often seek education later in life as they change careers.

All told, the overhaul would cost the state $2.1 billion, according to a California Budget and Policy Center estimate cited in the CSAC materials, though more precise figures would depend on the details. The proposal caused some anxiety for the heads of UC and CSU, who sent a joint letter to the commission the night before the meeting. More on that below.

FUNDING CONCERNS: UC President Janet Napolitano and CSU Chancellor Timothy White sent a joint letter on the eve of the California Student Aid Commission meeting that urged caution on the Cal Grant overhaul.

While lauding Cal Grants, the two leaders said they believe “additional analysis is required to truly understand how adoption of any of these programs will interact with the existing, robust institutional financial aid programs we currently provide at CSU and UC.”

They also expressed concern that more money for Cal Grants could mean less for their own system. “Investments in financial aid that jeopardize the operating budgets of UC and CSU could threaten our ability to graduate students in a timely fashion, which could drive upward students’ debt and defer their ability to contribute to California’s prosperity.” They urged “phased-in, tactical approaches.”

CSAC funds for financial aid are not part of the state’s Proposition 98 guarantee, according to Edgar Cabral at the Legislative Analyst’s Office. So any boost to financial aid funding could mean less money available for other non-Prop. 98 programs like UC and CSU, especially if lawmakers view higher education funding in a single bucket.
The commission approved a general set of ideas Thursday rather than specific policy prescriptions, recognizing that any Cal Grant changes will have to survive lobbying and legislative whims.

NUMBER CRUNCH: In a state where Silicon Valley companies have made a fortune out of mining data, California has done a miserable job of tracking student outcomes.
That’s the general conclusion of a new report by the Public Policy Institute of California, which calls on state leaders to develop a statewide longitudinal database that follows students from early childhood until they reach the workforce. California is “one of only a handful of states” that lacks a comprehensive data system that can answer questions about how specific education interventions affect outcomes.

The problem, PPIC says, is that the state has a fragmented education network without a unified database. Some institutions share data, but “these connections are mostly infrequent, inefficient, incomplete or ad hoc,” the study finds.

While the Common Core State Standards approach ties coursework to career readiness, PPIC says “schools generally receive little feedback on which of their former students went to college or entered the workforce. Furthermore, schools often do not know whether their students were ready for college-level work if they did enroll in college, or whether they eventually earned a degree.”

Without naming names, PPIC hinted that Newsom would be more  open than Brown to launching a statewide education data system: “Given new leadership in the state, the time is ripe to modernize California’s education data.” That was also noted by EdSource in August after a legislative hearing on the subject; the publication said Brown has “resisted efforts to set up such a data tool” while Newsom “has expressed strong support for one.”

Natasha Collins, principal education consultant for the Assembly Appropriations Committee, said at a PPIC lunch event Thursday that the Legislature has been supportive of an education data effort. The idea would eventually be to pull from a broad set of data – not just from schools, but also from the Employment Development Department and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.