Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a state budget for 2012-13 containing provisions that would make Cal Grants more difficult to obtain for students. The most controversial provision is an increase in the minimum grade point average (GPA) requirements needed to qualify for two of the awards. These specific measures will close the budget shortfall by $131 million dollars and there are other propositions aside from Cal Grants that aim to raise funding for higher education overall. Yet, these financial pros are outweighed by the decreased accessibility to education for underprivileged students.
The two types of awards affected are merit-based Cal Grant A and income-based Cal Grant B. The proposal would take the current GPA requirements for Cal Grant A and raise it from a 3.0 to a 3.25 and similarly raise Cal Grant B’s GPA requirement from a 2.0 to a 2.75. There is also a proposed increase to community college transfers’ qualifying GPA — from a 2.4 to a 2.75 GPA.
For the upcoming fiscal year there is a projected $9 to $12 billion budget shortfall in California, so the Governor’s proposed budget changes are progress towards a solution. Brown suggested a raise in the GPA requirement to further ensure that grants are going to students most likely to earn their degree. But this measure could impact over 26,000 students in the UC, Cal State and community college levels next year. The alarming thing is that any GPA requirement changes would take place after the March 2 deadline for financial aid. Many students would be awarded provisional grants, only to have them rescinded once the budget passed.
As more students lack the ability to pay for school, this could create an overflow of students moving from private to public universities. This is also due to a provision that would lower the award amount for students attending private non-profit schools to the Cal State level — a difference of over $4,000 dollars. This measure is introduced despite the fact that on average in California, private universities are 1.5 times more expensive to attend than UCs and over two times more expensive to attend than Cal State schools. The Jan. 15 article in the Los Angeles Times, “Budget plan would raise the bar for Cal Grant financial aid” reports that this could “drastically reduce opportunities for low-income students who are accepted by private schools” and that if these students opted to go to public schools instead, that “state expenses could increase” in order to subsidize those students. If state expenses did increase, then more cuts in education would inevitably follow, creating a destructive pattern that harms students.
Not only will these requirements create a sense of uncertainty, but they will also have an effect on students who are already struggling to overcome the achievement gap. This might force students to either drop out of school or choose majors that are less competitive in order to maintain a high GPA. Kevin Rask, an economics professor at Wake Forest University, reviewed the records of over 5,000 students who graduated from an unnamed “elite” liberal arts college from 2001 to 2009 and found that the age-old humanities-slacker myth is true — some majors yield higher average GPAs than others. Chemistry and math majors have a GPA average of 2.78 and 2.90 respectively while education and English majors have a GPA average at 3.36 and 3.33 respectively. These new changes could force desperate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) majors into majors that they would otherwise not consider just so that they could afford a degree.
The government needs revenue, therefore the state should continue with Brown’s other proposed measures such as an increase in sales tax and tax on high-earning Californians which the state claims will increase funding to higher education by four percent a year. However, those who are underprivileged and pursuing an education should be put first, thus student funds are not where cuts should be made.