Story Graduation Initiative

CSU Goes to Washington

Mike Uhlenkamp



​​ Supporting the achievement of 479,000 students was the overarching theme of the day, as California State University (CSU) Chancellor Timothy P. White and campus delegations journeyed to Washington, D.C. to visit with federal leaders during the university's systemwide "Hill Day" endeavor.

The CSU delegations - comprised of presidents, faculty, staff students and alumni - were in the nation's capital to meet with federal legislators to discuss university priorities that lead to student success. These priorities include restoration of year-round Pell and extending/maintaining the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy as well as other programs that invest in student success and problem-solving research.

"It may be self-evident but still worth saying clearly and unequivocally that the success of our students is our number one priority," said White as he addressed the collective groups. "That focus must carry through all of our meetings today and each ask must be clearly in support of students."

Federal funding in the form of Pell Grants is integral to helping CSU students afford a college education. The Pell Grant Program provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and some teacher credential candidates. More than 221,000 CSU students receive such a grant each year. Year-round Pell would provide access to summer terms and thus reduce time to degree. Those who are able to complete their degrees faster also open up space for new students to pursue higher education. The year-round Pell program was formerly in place from 2009-11, but ended prematurely due to the recession. During its run, more than 12,000 CSU students benefitted each year.

Federal immigration policy remains an important issue for many CSU students. Across the CSU's 23 campuses, roughly 8,000 students receive AB 540 waivers that help them pursue their goal of a college degree. Many of those students are undocumented and qualify for DACA.

The CSU supports continuing the DACA program and/or enactment of the bipartisan BRIDGE Act, which would extend legal protections for three years. The chancellor and CSU presidents have stated on a number of occasions that all campuses will continue to comply with state and federal laws, but maintain that the enforcement of federal immigration law falls under the purview of the federal government. The continuation of the protections under DACA would allow students to complete their education and contribute to their communities and the state of California.

The administration's budget blueprint for fiscal year 2017-18 proposes cuts to many programs that CSU students benefit from. Ultimately, these cuts could hamper access and affordability for students.

Reductions to or elimination of student aid programs like Pell, SEOG (Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants) and Work-Study will affect affordability for hundreds of thousands of CSU students. More than 30 percent of CSU students are the first in their families to attend college. Student preparation programs like TRIO and GEAR UP are critical to ensuring that students from underserved communities can succeed in college, and proposed cuts to those programs are additional barriers for students that reduced access or increase time to degree.

The administration has also proposed cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – grants provided by these agencies allow CSU faculty and students to work to address science, technology, English and mathematics (STEM) and workforce challenges across the state.

During their visits, the CSU teams also shared information about the university's comprehensive efforts to improve student achievement through Graduation Initiative 2025.

With these critical topics in mind, Chancellor White's delegation met with the White House Domestic Policy Council, newly minted California Senator Kamala Harris, the state's Democratic House delegation, senior House appropriator Ken Calvert (R-Riverside) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego), recently named Ranking Democratic member on the House's Higher Education subcommittee.

Hill Day was a concerted effort to ensure policymakers understand that supporting rather than cutting these programs will benefit students. There will be additional visits and the CSU's federal relations team will continue that work year-round.