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California Lawmakers Tried To Cut The Cost Of College. Here's What They Did And Didn't Accomplish

Students walk across the campus of UCLA. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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As California's lawmakers rushed to wrap up their work before Friday's midnight deadline, the state Senate and Assembly voted on hundreds of bills. Some didn't make it across the finish line, including two big reform measures designed to address the high cost of getting a college degree.

SB291 would have created a nearly $1.5 billion fund to help community college students pay for rent, food and transportation. AB 1314 would have expanded the Cal Grant program by making it easier for UC, Cal State and community college students to qualify for aid.

"[T]he funding to implement SB 291 and AB 1314 was not included in this budget," the bills' co-authors, Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) and Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside), said in a statement. The lawmakers said they'll tweak the proposals and bring them back for a vote next year.

"[O]ur existing financial aid programs are insufficient to ensure that our lowest income students and our non-traditional students - largely concentrated in the California Community Colleges - can enroll in and graduate from college," Leyva and Medina said.

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"The fact that [the bills are] not in right now is kind of disappointing, but I'm hopeful for the future," said Iiyshaa Youngblood, a former student at Moreno Valley College who had lobbied for the bills.

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Support for the bills came from public colleges and universities, as well as advocates pushing to increase financial aid for students in urban areas. About 2 million students attend California's 115 community colleges, far more than the roughly 800,000 who attend University of California and California State University campuses.

Community college students are more likely to be low income, have kids at home, attend part time, and work full or part time. Survey results released this week by the California Student Aid Commission emphasized that off-campus factors are what keep many students from earning a degree.

Los Angeles City College is one of nine campuses in the Los Angeles Community College District. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)

By removing some of the barriers students face when applying for state financial aid, AB 1314 would be "exactly what we're looking for," said Drew Yamanishi, dean of student services at Los Angeles City College.

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The "reams of rules and procedures" and financial aid forms are "a real burden," he said, adding, "a lot of students who may have been eligible were just unable to navigate the complexities of that bureaucracy."

Yamanishi and other supporters argued the bills would transform college students' lives.

"The message to the bill authors is that they're on the right track and they need to keep going," said Debbie Cochrane, executive vice president at the Institute for College Access and Success. "Students can't afford to wait."


The legislature has passed these bills, and they're awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom's signature or veto:

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AB 2: The California College Promise grant program at community colleges waives tuition for freshman students only if they attend full time. That is fewer than one in 10 of the system's students. AB 2 would expand that benefit to new students who attend part time.

AB 1307: Students who qualify for Cal Grants are limited to about $9,000 in aid if they attend a private nonprofit college or university. AB 1307 authored by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio (D-West Covina) would raise that cap by about $2,000.

SB 296: Authored by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Redondo Beach), SB 296 would open Cal Grants to students who are seeking asylum. The measure appears more symbolic than based on a demonstrated need. Allen's office argued that there are about 70,000 pending asylum applications in California courts, but a legislative analysis said it's unclear how many students would benefit from the proposal and that students who are seeking asylum may already have access to aid.