Return to the Latest

Cal Grants: Making College More Affordable

By Ariel Boone

You know that if you donate to charity, you can deduct that on your tax return, right?

Well, with that idea in mind, imagine if:

  1. You could donate a dollar,
  2. Deduct it on your taxes,
  3. Get 80 to 85 cents back,
  4. And help 177,000 low- and moderate-income students pay for college.

Two California bills that have passed the legislature and are awaiting Governor Jerry Brown’s signature would make this contribution model a reality in 2014.

The first bill, SB 284, promises tax credits to Californians who contribute to the state’s College Access Tax Fund. The second bill, SB 285, says that the Fund’s money must boost the Cal Grant scholarship program. These scholarships are available to California high school graduates who meet a GPA requirement and plan to attend college. Over the years, the amount of the Cal Grant award has dwindled – not helpful in a state whose tuition has rapidly increased due to budget cuts.

Since 1969, the Cal Grant program has helped Californians afford college. Unfortunately, the Cal Grant awards have not kept up with rising tuition at California colleges. Here is a quick lowdown on Cal Grants:

  • This year, for the first time in California history, undocumented students are also eligible for Cal Grants, thanks to the passage of the California DREAM act in 2011.
  • These two bills apply to “Cal Grant B” awards – the type of grant that covers not just tuition, but also rent, textbook costs, and transportation for the lowest-income students.
  • In 1969, the maximum Cal Grant B award was $900.  To keep up with inflation, Cal Grant B awards should today be $5,900 – but instead, in 2012, a Cal Grant B award was just $1,473.
  • The two new bills create a tax credit and contribution fund that would allow the grant amount to be increased up to $5,000 based on cost of living

At Young Invincibles, we know the importance of keeping college affordable. But while we work toward more affordable degrees, students still face the problem of sticker shock. The average Californian who graduates in debt owes $26,600. Young Californians unable to bring down their high costs of college with grants and scholarships may steer away from college campuses before they arrive.

When the budget gets tough, and states are looking to cut costs in difficult economic times, colleges can anticipate cuts, not only to essential programs on their campuses, but to their students and their families. These periods of economic difficulty are the times when it is most crucial to invest in students. On average, African American, Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander Cal Grant recipients currently receive smaller grant awards than their white peers – and the same goes for low-income students and their higher-income peers. These supplemental Cal Grants can narrow this gap for the low-income and most underrepresented students by increasing their scholarship awards.

When I contribute to this fund and file my taxes in March 2015 — okay, honestly, April — I will know I’ve helped to build a pot of state money that sends low- and moderate-income California high school graduates to college. Give me a way to pay it forward – and give low-income Californians a chance to afford college.

What are your thoughts? Chat with us @YI_Care and use #DreamsNotDebt!