|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
San Francisco Chronicle 2-25-04
Private university aid may be slashed
For the last two years, students going to California's public universities have been hit by one wave of bad news after another, thanks to the state's budget troubles. Now some students bound for private colleges are in the state's crosshairs.
Students and administrators from two dozen independent colleges will travel to Sacramento today to lobby lawmakers against the latest round of cuts -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to slash Cal Grant funds to students entering private colleges this fall.
The governor's plan would cut $4,200 in tuition aid from Cal Grants awarded to qualified students attending private schools. Instead, they would get the same $5,482 that is given to qualified students in public universities. Students already enrolled at private colleges would not be affected by the cuts and would be grandfathered in at the higher grant level.
The plan no longer would recognize the fact that tuition at private schools is generally much higher than the tuitions charged by UC or the California State University system.
In addition to cutting the tuition grants, the Schwarzenegger plan substantially lowers the top income that determines if a family's son or daughter qualifies for a grant. For a family of four, the current income level is $69,000. The proposal would cut it to $60,000.
Cal Grant aid "made a lot of difference for me,'' said Erik Johnson, a junior at private Saint Mary's College in Moraga, "and there are a lot of students who are more socially and economically disadvantaged for whom it makes college a possibility.''
Johnson is one of about 75 private college students and administrators who will urge their legislators today to reject Schwarzenegger's proposal, which they say could drive the state's neediest students away from a higher education.
State educators also believe the lowered income threshold will cut about 5,000 students from the aid program entirely and force them to find other ways of paying their tuition.
One of those may be Theresa Bishop, a 17-year-old San Diego high school senior from a middle-income family who wants to attend a small, private college like Saint Mary's. She doubts she will qualify for a Cal Grant under the governor's proposal.
"I really love the small college atmosphere. I love the one-on-one with teachers who are willing to help you," she said. "It will be difficult. I may have to live at home (and attend college locally). It is a little worrisome, but I'm going to find a way."
H.D. Palmer, deputy director of the State Department of Finance, said the cuts come down to a matter of equity.
"Why should the state be providing a higher level of aid or subsidy to an individual who is going to attend a private institution as compared to an individual who goes to a public institution?" Palmer asked.
Many private institutions offer generous financial aid packages that, they say, when coupled with the Cal Grant funding, make independent colleges financially competitive with state-run universities, where tuitions have jumped 40 percent in the last two years.
Across the state, private schools say they have plenty of room and see themselves as an alternative to the state systems during enrollment cuts of 10 percent at UC and the California State University.
Many private schools had been courting students to let them know a private education was possible. But that push is now all but dead under the governor's proposals, said Veronica Villalobos, spokeswoman for the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities.
"We may get some new students from UC and CSU, but we may not get the financially needy students.'' Villalobos said. "The reaction is going to be, let's look at a cheaper option. But with the enrollment cuts, I don't know what options they have."
Last fall's Cal Grant figures provide a glimpse at the potential impact. At the private University of San Francisco, 139 of the approximately 800 freshmen received a Cal Grant award. Under the proposed lower income threshold, 45 would have been excluded and the remaining 94 students would have had their grants cut by 44 percent. The total in lost aid at USF would be $805,000 a year.
"What is under threat here is access," said Susan Murphy, director of financial aid at USF. "We are not talking about people who could make up the loss out of their own pockets."
The average annual tuition and fees at California's private, nonprofit colleges and universities is $21,465 with an average financial aid package of $18,900 with loans and grants. The average public institution fees are $5,437 at UC and $2,544 at CSU, with another 10 percent increase expected this year.
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