Lawmakers consider increasing financial aid for private college students

By Carolyn Kuimelis, CalMatters

State lawmakers are considering a proposal to increase the amount of money private college students can receive through California’s main financial aid program.

Senate Bill 851 stabilize state support for these students by ensuring that their scholarships are not reduced if private colleges do not accept a number of transfer students to community colleges. It would also allow the price to grow with inflation – and allow private college students to receive up to $6,000 in additional assistance if they are raising children or are current or former adoptive youth.

Proponents say the measure would help make private colleges more affordable for low-income students, increase diversity at those schools, and ease capacity shortages at public universities across the state.

Higher education researchers told the CalMatters College Journalism Network that the bill is important to consider because the University of California system and the California State University system are overflowing with students. At least one advocacy organization warns, however, that some aspects of the legislation could have the unintended effect of reducing the number of students moving from community colleges to private colleges.

Joshua Elizondo, an international studies student at Pepperdine University, is among those advocating for increased state financial aid for private college students. A former foster kid, Elizondo said state aid, known as the Cal Grant, was critical to his academic success at Pepperdine, where tuition is nearly $60,000 a year. . Young people in foster care have to support themselves and “in many ways the state is their parents,” he said in an interview.

“State aid is access to private institutions that historically marginalized students wouldn’t have,” added Elizondo, who is expected to graduate from Pepperdine in 2024. He is dual-enrolled at Santa Monica College, where he is the student body president and one of two student members of the California Community College Board of Governors.

The Senate Education Committee introduced the bill — which was drafted by Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from the San Fernando Valley — unanimously on March 9 and referred it to the Appropriations Committee. Lawmakers must pass a budget by mid-June.

The Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of California (AICCU), one of the supporters of the bill, estimates that it would cost up to $25.8 million per year, although the exact annual price depends on the number of students enrolled and the population. The University of Southern California and Loyola Marymount School of Education have also endorsed it.

State aid for private colleges is stagnating

The size of a Cal Grant award depends on the school a student chooses to attend.

Private college students can receive up to $9,220 per year for tuition and fees. This compares to $12,570 for University of California students and $5,742 for students at California State University, where tuition is cheaper. (Separate grants cover textbooks and living expenses for some students.)

In public universities, the price increases as well as tuition fee increases. But the amount of scholarships for private colleges has remained relatively stable since 2001, when it covered about half of tuition and fees. It now only covers about a quarter, Portantino’s office said.

Transfer student changes

The state also cut these scholarships of approximately $1,100 if the private college sector does not accept a number of transfer students to community colleges who have completed an Associate’s Degree for Transfer, a special degree designed to provide a clear pathway to these students to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

The bill would remove the possibility that the state could reduce aid amounts if private colleges do not meet the transfer goal. The years they reach the target, the price would increase with inflation.

The measure also proposes a new method for calculating transfer goals, which would make them easier to achieve for private colleges, Portantino said. Proponents of the bill say the goals must take into account enrollment is down that colleges cannot control, such as those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But representatives of the Campaign for College Opportunity said they were concerned that changing transfer targets could potentially lead to private colleges admitting fewer community college students. The group supported legislation creating the simplified transfer process.

The group has yet to take a position on the bill as discussions over transfer targets continue with the AICCU, said Jessie Ryan, the campaign’s executive vice president.

“I think the tension I see right now is, with limited resources, how do we prioritize financial aid for both our public colleges and universities and our private, nonprofit colleges?” said Ryan. “I think the state, frankly, and policy makers have to deal with that tension.”

Support diversity

Portantino said the measure reflects the fact that the state’s private colleges educate a diverse population of students.

The majority of undergraduate students on these campuses receive some form of financial aid, according to the AICCU, which represents more than 80 schools. More than 27,000 private college students receive Cal grants, and the majority are students of color, according to 2022 data from the Association.

“For upward mobility, these colleges play a big role,” Portantino said in an interview with the CalMatters College Journalism Network.

At Mount Saint Mary’s University, a women’s college in Los Angeles, all undergraduate students receive financial aid. Most are women of color and 67% are first-generation college students.

State and federal funds fill the gap between the help students need and what the school provides, said President Ann McElaney-Johnson, who testified at the hearing.

“We work with a lot of students that many institutions would consider a risk,” McElaney-Johnson said in an interview. “They come here, and with the personalized educational experiences, small class sizes, and mentorship they receive, they’re able to succeed, graduate, and then go on to prestigious graduate schools or colleges. get great jobs.”

Diego Villegas, Cal Grant recipient and first-generation student, on the Pitzer College campus on March 10, 2022.Stella Favaro/CalMatters

Diego Villegas, a Pitzer College sophomore, Cal grant recipient and first-generation student, said he would feel more comfortable if there were more students like him on campus.

“There are just not many of us,” Villegas said. At Pitzer, tuition is just over $57,000, but help from the college itself covers part of this cost for about half of the students.

Villegas mentors Pitzer’s first generation students and spends his free time working on creative projects, including a mural, to illustrate the Latinx experience at Pitzer. He and his classmates are currently compiling their experiences into a book, which they plan to publish and sell. They will put the profits into mutual aid, he said.

Wider reforms

The bill comes at a time when lawmakers are also considering a broader Cal Grant overhaul. AB 1746 would increase the number of eligible low-income students by aligning the grant’s eligibility requirements with those of the federal Pell Grant.

Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a similar measure in the fall, saying it should have been part of the state budget process, given its price. Newsom said in his veto that this would result in “significant cost pressures to the state, likely hundreds of millions of dollars per year.”

Measures such as the private college proposal could be a step towards making these schools as affordable for low-income students as public universities in the state, said Michal Kurlaender, professor of education at UC Davis.

This is particularly relevant given the pressing concern over college capacity and expansion. in the stateshe says.

The percentage of California high school students applying to public universities in the state has been rising steadily for years. But the enrollment percentage remained relatively stable from 2001 to 2020, according to data from the Campaign for College Opportunity.

Still, Kurlaender wondered if increasing aid to the relatively small population of Cal Grant recipients at private colleges would make much of a difference in the state’s broader goal of increasing graduation rates. for historically underrepresented students.

In 2020-21, 34,533 students at private, nonprofit institutions were offered a Cal grant – only 6% of all grants offered. Several previous attempts to increase Cal grants for private college students have been blocked in the Legislature.

“There just isn’t an infinite money pot,” Kurlaender said. “And so, you really want to think about, what is the extra money going to be taken out of?”

Kuimelis is a contributor to the CalMatters College Journalism Network, a collaboration between CalMatters and student journalists across California. This story and other articles on higher education are supported by the College Futures Foundation.