California lawmakers tout big college spending, but key items get zero dollars this year

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Mikhail Zinshteyn | CalMatters

Lawmakers are bragging about a massive infusion of funds in the new budget to help more Californians afford higher education and increase enrollment at public universities, including the most competitive. But all of these promises are unfunded.

None of that money will be available unless lawmakers and the governor agree to fund it next year.

The $ 515 million to create a debt-free grant for low- and middle-income students at the University of California and California State University? The budget agreement for the 2021-2022 fiscal year does not devote a dollar to it but will do so next year, “subject to available and sufficient credit”.

The $ 149 million to fund an additional 15,000 seats in 2022-23 for California residents of UC and CSU? Not a dollar either.

For now, budget wording indicates that the Legislature “intends” to provide funds next year, a departure from recent practice when the budget law provided advance funds to increase enrollment. later.

Legislative staff say their revenue projections show the state will be richer in cash next year than this year. The move puts pressure on systems to start hiring more cashless faculty ahead of a scheduled term to enroll more students.

It sounds different from what Assembly Member Phil Ting, a Democrat from San Francisco and chairman of the Assembly’s Budget Committee, said yesterday during a hearing on the budget deal: “We also hear people we need to increase access to higher education. So we are increasing the slots for them for an additional 15,000 students. “

What’s making money now

The historic budget, the largest ever produced by Sacramento, injects real money for the fiscal year starting July 1 that will immediately benefit hundreds of thousands of students – but on a smaller scale than the summaries say budget of legislators.

This is a radical change from just a year ago, when the state predicted a $ 54 billion budget hole and imposed nearly $ 2.6 billion in cuts and IOUs on universities. public and community colleges in California. All of those dollars are being restored and then some in this budget deal, with UC and CSU securing continuing funding increases of 5% – roughly $ 173 million and $ 186 million, respectively.

And that rules out other one-time investments, like more than $ 400 million to reorganize Cal State Humboldt as the state’s third polytechnic university in a bid to bolster California’s ability to teach science. Or the $ 2 billion over three years to build affordable student housing and other campus buildings.

Much of this money will fund efforts by UC and CSU to improve their graduation rates. This has the dual effect of getting students to graduate faster and opening up niches for new students – but not as much as the enrollment growth plans on offer.

But all the money for UC is still short of its core funding for university students that came from state support. A little over a decade ago, 60% came from the general state fund. Lately it’s been closer to 40%, which means the system has relied more on tuition fee hikes.

Cal scholarships reach twice as many community college students

The state’s renowned financial aid program, Cal Grant, will extend guaranteed eligibility to at least 133,000 more community college students this year, doubling the number of community college students currently receiving it. This number may increase in the years to come because the reward is a right. It is the most significant update in two decades for arguably the most generous state financial aid program in the country.

This is because the restrictions on which community college students can get guaranteed money are lifted, including those one year or less after graduating from high school and those with less than a certain age. They will remain for students attending UC, CSU and private schools. These restrictions prevented most community college students from receiving assistance; While more than a third of UC and CSU students have obtained the Cal scholarship, so are less than 10% of community college students.

By expanding Cal Grant, related programs receive more money. The budget accord adds an additional $ 83 million to ensure that more students with dependent children who receive Cal Grant also receive an additional $ 6,000, a program that began in 2019.
Advocating for students has made a difference, said Colm Fitzgerald, a past student voting member of the community college system’s board of directors. “I saw how this had a direct impact on the outlook of lawmakers in terms of Cal Grants and how Cal Grant was subsequently reformed,” Fitzgerald said. He also credited a law passed in 2019 that resulted in an increase in the advocacy budget for members of the student senate from community colleges to travel to Sacramento.

The budget deal promises to oversize an existing middle-class scholarship that covers part of a student’s tuition at UC and CSU by becoming a debt-free scholarship program instead.

Importantly, the plan excludes virtually all community college students except for the small number who are enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program at a community college.

If the debt-free grant begins next year, it will cover college expenses that part-time work, college grants, and state and federal grants do not cover. Students from families earning more than $ 100,000 annually will receive less. That plan alone is estimated at $ 515 million, part of a down payment of what legislative staff say will ultimately cost at least $ 1.5 billion if fully funded. More details of the plan are to come in a “trailer” bill due to go to press today.

Community college students make up nearly two-thirds of all students in California, so the state is expected to spend up to $ 1.4 billion to cover their expenses for housing, food, and transportation that help existing does not cover. This is based on a 2019 estimate of the cost of a debt-free grant for community colleges.

This budget deal favors community colleges by funding their Cal Grant expansion now rather than later, said Senate pro Tempore President Toni G. Atkins. “There is still work to be done, but we are particularly proud that our initial investment is benefiting community college students first. “


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