Despite lobbying virtually this year, CSSA and the many CSU delegations appearing in the Capitol this week are determined to highlight AB 1456, a priority bill that will make a college education more accessible and affordable for students.
Over the week of March 8th, California State University students across the twenty-three CSU campuses begin their legislative visits with various California state senators and assembly members. The California Higher Education Student Summit (CHESS) is an annual conference in March hosted by the California State Student Association (CSSA) that provides CSU students with opportunities to advocate for student issues and higher education. For the last twenty-five years, CHESS has been held in Sacramento, giving each CSU delegation the chance to attend training and seminars on public policy and state governance before heading into the Capitol to lobby legislators. Despite CHESS being held virtually this year, CSSA and the many delegations appearing in the Capitol this week are determined to highlight AB 1456, a priority bill that will make a college education more accessible and affordable for students.
AB 1456, the Cal Grant Reform Act, is a comprehensive reform plan that simplifies the Cal Grant application process and expands eligibility. Currently, there are various types of Cal Grants which can make the process convoluted. AB 1456 streamlines this by implementing only two grants: Cal Grant 2 and Cal Grant 4. The former is offered to community college students and eliminates age and GPA requirements. The latter is designed for four-year college students and, similarly, reduces the minimum GPA requirement to a 2.0 and removes the age requirement.
AB 1456 is also curated to address financial aid inequity. Currently, 60% of students are fully covered for tuition with California’s financial aid program; however, the state does not account for the remaining and equally significant system-wide costs. These expenses range from textbooks, housing, food, and transportation, making up about 80% of the total cost to attend a CSU. The California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) reported that around 70% of students lost a portion of their income due to COVID-19. Before the pandemic, an estimated 11% of CSU students were homeless, with 42% experiencing food insecurity. The CSAC found in a 2019 survey that the average student requires $19,000 dedicated towards non-tuition costs each year. The greater the financial need, the less time a student has to offer towards their education; this lengthens the time it takes for degree completion and contributes to rising dropout rates among low-income students.
The gaps in access to education are widening in a time when the student debt crisis has reached over 1.6 trillion dollars as of 2019. Assembly Members Jose Medina and Kevin McCarty introduced AB 1456 to alleviate the financial burden of higher education and the various expenses that come with it. In his 2021-2022 budget proposal, Governor Gavin Newsom awarded increased funding for the CSU with a recurring allocation of $15 million for students’ basic needs and $15 million to expand access to mental health resources and technology. Newsom also included $175 million for maintenance and $30 million for emergency student assistance in his proposal. However, Cal Grants are only experiencing an increase of $35 million, and while Newsom’s investment in the CSU has overall increased, it is not clear where he stands on the bill or how likely it is for AB 1456 to pass in either house. Currently, the bill awaits its next reading on March 22nd in the Assembly Appropriations before seeing the House floor a second time.
CSSA is actively working towards raising support for AB 1456 after AB 1314, a previous financial aid reform bill that students advocated for the previous year, was withdrawn. Any CSULB students interested in voicing their opinions on this issue to the 2021’s delegation are welcome to attend future LobbyCorps meetings. Students can also find out more about CSSA’s work and read AB 1456 to learn more about California’s financial aid system.