Cal Grants Program Faces $30-Million Cut

Times Staff Writer

A little-noticed provision of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget would slash more than $30 million in state grants to college students seeking financial aid to attend private schools.

Administrators at California’s private colleges and universities say the reduction in Cal Grants probably would divert many students to community colleges and public universities. It also could force private schools with meager endowments to cut admissions and services.

When something like this is cut, a private college “just can’t say, ‘Oh, by the way, you have to pay a couple extra thousand or hundred,’ ” said Jacqueline Powers Doud, president of Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles. At her school, where a third of undergraduates come from families earning less than $25,000 a year, many students “don’t have that kind of money.”


Under the proposal, the annual award available to incoming private-school undergraduates through the Cal Grant program would fall by about 44% -- from $9,708 to $5,482.

Private-school students would receive just $498 a year more than those attending the University of California, whose grants would be frozen at $4,984.

The change would mark a significant shift in the state’s student aid program, which for decades has provided substantial amounts of extra grant money to needy private-school students.

Cal Grant recipients come from low- and moderate-income families. For a student from a family of four to qualify for a grant this year, household income had to be no more than $67,600.

Even if private institutions are successful in lobbying to restore some of the money, this spring is likely to be unusually stressful for financially strapped applicants. Typically, students have to decide on colleges around May 1, well before state lawmakers finish the annual ordeal of putting together a budget.

Many students could be forced to pick schools without knowing how much grant aid they can count on.


Sandra Jimenez, a senior in the magnet program at San Fernando High School, worries that a significant Cal Grant reduction would put her first choice -- Loyola Marymount University -- out of reach.

Jimenez, the daughter of an upholsterer, is drawn by the small classes and the beauty of the campus, which is on a bluff overlooking Marina del Rey.

But the prospective math major still hasn’t worked out one key calculation: How is she going to pay the tuition?

Thousands of others might find themselves in a similar predicament, though many don’t know it yet.

Last school year, nearly one of every four Californians who received a bachelor’s degree in the state had graduated from a private school.

Difficult Choices

In defense of the governor’s proposal, H.D. Palmer, deputy director for the California Department of Finance, said Schwarzenegger was trying to save money without cutting into instructional programs.


“We thought this was an appropriate action to take, given the fact that, overall, we’ve got to close a budget gap of more than $14 billion next year,” he said.

Palmer also said the system would be more fair if California’s aid for private-school students is brought more in line with what the state spends on UC students.

He pointed out that the budget for the overall Cal Grant program would rise by about $50 million this year, based on the assumption that more students would receive aid.

Those currently receiving Cal Grants would not be affected by the proposed cutback in award size.

But private schools themselves could suffer. The consequences are likely to be particularly harsh for smaller, less affluent schools such as Fresno Pacific University, a 60-year-old institution that is one of only two fully accredited private universities in the Central Valley.

Cary Templeton, associate dean for enrollment services, said all but 10 of the school’s 964 undergraduates receive some form of financial aid, and 55% of last fall’s entering freshmen received Cal Grants.


“We don’t have many full-pay students,” he said. “We’re dealing with a very needy population here.... This is a major blow to their access, to their hope and to their opportunities.”

Templeton said it would be impossible for his small university to increase its own scholarship spending to make up for the estimated $470,000 that his campus’ new students would lose.

Though Templeton said he couldn’t predict the exact consequences, he said he suspected the evangelical Christian university would enroll about 50 fewer new undergraduates next year if the Cal Grant cutback were imposed. In turn, he said, the reduced income probably would lead to cutbacks in programs, outreach, staff and student services.

Other colleges predict similar squeezes. For instance, Mount St. Mary’s College and two other Los Angeles-area schools -- Whittier College and Occidental College -- estimate they could lose more than $300,000 each in state aid next year.

“It’s a lot of money for us,” said Jan Legoza, Whittier’s vice president for finance and administration. “We don’t have solutions for it.”

Overall, the California Student Aid Commission estimates that close to 10,000 students at private colleges in the state could lose about $39 million next year. Of that amount, $32.7 million would come from the cut in the size of the grants.


The remaining $6 million or so would result from Schwarzenegger’s proposal to drop the income ceiling for Cal Grant recipients by 10% -- to $60,840 for a student from a family of four. That change also would hit undergraduates at UC and California State University campuses.

The proposed grant cut for private-school students is a personal and professional frustration for Diana A. Fuentes-Michel, executive director of the state’s Student Aid Commission.

She is a graduate of Loyola Marymount, the first in her Mexican American family to attend college.

Fuentes-Michel said she had benefited from doing her undergraduate studies at a small private school; she had needed the personal attention it could provide.

“If I didn’t have that one-on-one support -- and I had tons of support at Loyola -- I never would have made it,” she said.

But this spring, Fuentes-Michel said, she fears many students in similar circumstances are “going to say, ‘I can’t take that risk.’ ”


Jimenez, the San Fernando High senior, said she might have to follow her two older sisters to Cal State Northridge, largely because of its lower fees. Her father supports a family of seven on his earnings as an upholsterer, along with some income that her mother receives for baby-sitting.

Comparing Costs

At Loyola Marymount, annual tuition this year is $23,504, and other costs, such as books and room and board, bring the total to about $33,000. Compare that with the costs at Cal State Northridge, where fees for full-time undergraduates come to $2,918 a year. For a student living on campus, other costs would bring the tab to about $15,000.

Jimenez, an A-minus student in high school, wants Loyola Marymount’s smaller classes, not an impersonal setting where “your own professor doesn’t know exactly who you are, and you can’t get special help.”

Many high school counselors and college financial aid officials say that, for high school seniors, the prospect of a Cal Grant cut hasn’t sunk in. The students are focused on getting admitted to their top-choice schools.

March 2 is the deadline for applying for Cal Grant money for the 2004-05 school year.

Harold Soo Hoo, Jimenez’s counselor in the magnet program at San Fernando High School, said he hoped the students most determined to attend private schools would “try to find a way. That may mean more applications for scholarships.”

But many other students, he said, will “be changing their minds.... We’re not in a community here where Mom or Dad can just write the check.”