The Governator Grants Hope for the Cal Grant Program

Many students here at UCI annually receive this comforting message:

“Dear Cal Grant Student. Congratulations, the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) has renewed your Cal Grant award for the 2010-11 academic year.”

With its promise of financial relief, this e-mail often brings a feeling of ease to the numerous Cal Grant recipients here at UC Irvine. Yet, only a year ago, students feared the Cal Grant program would be suspended and that they would no longer receive the financial aid benefits that they were — and for most, still are — so heavily dependent upon. While some of these fears were unrealistic, several were held with realistic anxiety, especially after Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal to cut the Cal Grant program in 2009.

However, last month, the governor seemed to have had a change of heart, and in April, endorsed the restoration of funds for Cal Grants to California colleges and universities.

For second-year cognitive sciences major Richard Brown-Hernandez, Cal Grants are a necessity for him to pay for the increasingly expensive tuition here at UCI. Being a member of the UCI population who comes from a low-income family, Cal Grant proves to be imperative for payment of college fees that would otherwise be impossible to afford.

“Cal Grant is vital for me,”  Brown-Hernandez said. “I don’t know what I would do without it.”
Christopher Shultz, acting director of UC Irvine’s Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, while wary of what could come, remains relatively upbeat about the situation.

“Until it actually goes through the legislature, we don’t really know what is doing to happen. I’m really optimistic that the governor will get his wish and that competitive grants will be restored,” Shultz said.
Cal Grant qualification is divided into the entitlement program and the competitive program. According to Shultz, qualification for the entitlement program is based on GPA, income and assets. For the competitive program, family and student disadvantages are taken into consideration.

The original proposal in the Cal Grant saga allowed for students existing in the program to still receive funds, but barred the distribution of new financial awards.

From 2009-10, UCI had two new recipients in the competitive Cal Grant A program and 31 new recipients for the Cal Grant B competitive program. This same year, there were nine continuing Cal Grant recipients and 146 continuing Cal Grant B recipients. For the Cal Grant entitlement program, there were over 1100 new recipients, 2000 continuing recipients for Cal Grant A, 500 new students and 2100 continuing students for Cal Grant B.

In this case, last year’s legislative proposal would have eliminated all new recipients from ever receiving these financial aid benefits.

“I’m really happy,” Shultz said. “Given the state’s budget climate, I was a little worried. But I really am thrilled that there are no longer talks about elimination of the program.”

For many students at UCI, these good tidings for are received with  open arms, including second-year qualitative economics major Dan T. Nguyen.

“At first I was really shocked to hear that they were going to take it away. Cal grant is one of the main grants for us. I feel pretty good, though, that the government is helping me out, because I don’t get enough help from my family,” Nguyen said,  a recipient of both the Cal Grant A and the Cal Grant B. “It means a lot to me that someone cares enough to pay for my college.”