Gov. Jerry Brown's 2012 budget proposal calls for significant cuts to the Cal Grants program. Those cuts would almost halve the grant amount for more than 26,000 deserving students at nonprofit private colleges across the state, even though such grant awards comprise less than 3 percent of the state's budget.
This measure would block access to higher education and sacrifice the aspirations of low-income students for a minimal, if any, improvement to the state's bottom line.
Nearly 60 years ago, the state created the Cal Grants program as a commitment to California's young people. Through a unique private-public partnership, academic achievement became possible for thousands of students who, on average, graduated at a faster rate at private nonprofit colleges than at public institutions, and moved on to become vital members of California's workforce.
But that commitment to young people could be derailed by a proposal that slashes annual support for low-income students at nonprofit colleges by 44 percent.
At Saint Mary's College, 660 academically qualified students will be affected by this unfair measure and will lose more than $3 million in much-needed aid if these cuts occur.
To lessen the impact of the loss of Cal Grants, many independent colleges will step up to try to close the financial gap. Regrettably, for many institutions, that support cannot be sustained over the long term.
Students who previously relied on Cal Grants as a ladder to academic and economic success at independent colleges could find themselves with nowhere to turn for a college degree.
With the public system already at enrollment capacity, thousands of students from independent nonprofit colleges will be forced to scramble for whatever limited availability may develop in the state's under-resourced public system.
If we are to hold fast to the idea that higher education generates innovation, fosters a creative and productive workforce, and is a driving engine of prosperity for California, we also have to recognize the dire consequences of limiting access to higher education.
This measure will simply deny opportunities for thousands of deserving young people from low-income households and will prevent them, and California, from enjoying the economic and intellectual contributions they could provide as skilled and educated wage earners.
Sustaining Cal Grants for students at independent colleges saves taxpayers money. On average, the state pays less than $9,200 for a Cal Grant student for one year at an independent nonprofit college, while it costs $24,000 to educate a Cal Grant student for one year at a UC school and $11,750 for one year at a CSU school.
Cal Grants for students at independent colleges also save money for the state because it does not have to deal with the increased financial strain of enrolling thousands of additional students in the overburdened public system.
Importantly, Cal Grant students create savings by graduating at a faster rate than their counterparts at public institutions. Seventy-one percent of Cal Grant students at nonprofit independent colleges graduate in four years, compared to an overall graduation rate at UCs of 54 percent and 18 percent for the CSUs.
On March 7, hundreds of students from independent nonprofit colleges across the state who currently benefit from the Cal Grants program will descend on Sacramento to voice their opposition to this unfair measure.
I urge state lawmakers and the public to listen to their voices, their dreams and oppose cuts to Cal Grants for students at nonprofit independent colleges and universities.
Brother Ronald Gallagher is president of Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga.