Cal Grants in Danger?

At noon on Thursday, Oct 29, crowds began to form at the UC Irvine flagpoles. Some riled up students signed petitions to “save the Cal Grants,” while other protestors dressed as zombies and wearing signs were there to make statements against University of California’s President Mark Yudof’s infamous “cemetery comment” in which he likened the UC system to a cemetery.

Among numerous other proposed cuts in the debate on California’s budget crisis, Governor Schwarzenegger suggested the elimination of Cal Grants within the next fiscal year.

Cal Grants are composed of different types of monetary grants up to $9,708 that qualifying students can receive and do not have to pay back.

The program, according to Schwarzenegger, would be phased out by 2011.

Should his proposal pass, $201 million in grants would be cut in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, and $478 million in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, according to a press release from the University of California Student Association (UCSA).

“Right now, the Cal Grants are in the state’s discretionary funds, meaning the Governor could cut them at any time. We want it to be in the mandatory funds. There would be an increase in loans and rates. The financial situation for students will worsen, said Branden Hawara, a second-year biological sciences major and ASUCI member.

On Ring Road, dozens of zombie protestors rallied up fellow students. One sign read, “In Yudof’s Cemetery the Dead will Rise.”

But along with the Zombie Protest, which was simply a Halloween-themed protest to demonstrate the students’ distaste for Yudof’s leadership, the Cal Grant protest was an effort to have students petition to the State of California to save the Cal Grants.

“I don’t think it is okay to take away Cal Grants, with students paying as much as we do now. We’re people, and we’re the future of this country,” Said Hanna Schultheis-gerry, a second-year drama major who was present at both protests.

California’s crisis remains a harsh reality, however, no matter what the state decides to do. A $24 billion deficit needs to be closed somehow and no program is safe from being cut.

This seems odd considering only weeks ago, Yudof stated in an interview with UC student press that Cal Grants were a priority.

“The one good piece of news is that we had an avalanche of activity and that we were able to preserve the Cal Grants, which was my number one legislative priority,” Yudof said.

Sarah Bana, Executive Vice President of ASUCI argued that cutting Cal Grants would mean UC wouldn’t be affordable.

“If Cal Grants were phased out within the next few years, it would cut affordability and access to the universities. The quality of the UC will go down the drain, and it’ll become an elitist institution, which is not what we want it to be. A higher education should be open to anyone,” Bana said.

Cutting such an integral financial aid program would leave thousands of students at each UC campus underfunded, and thus unable to afford an education. Students are urged to write letters, sign petitions, and publicly voice their opinion in order to defend the Cal Grants.

While student coalitions are being formed to save the Cal Grants, strikes and protests continue to arise to fight the budget cuts and fee increases. The organizers of these protests strongly urged all students to spread the word and show up at such events in order to send a message to Sacramento and the press.

Jesse Cheng, Student Regent of the UC board, stated that the Cal Grants are vital to support students.

“The university would be done and over with. If you take away Cal Grants, you cut off thousands of students. We need everyone’s support to defend what’s really important,” Cheng said.