There has been much discussion, some of it in this newspaper, about the 44 percent cut that Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed for Cal Grants to students attending independent, nonprofit colleges. What seems to have been overlooked in this conversation is that the overwhelming number of all Cal Grants are given to women students, and it is they who will be disproportionately impacted if these drastic cuts are approved by the Legislature.

According to the California Student Aid Commission, 73 percent of all Cal Grants across the state are awarded to women.

How ironic is it that just as we see women meet, and actually surpass, men in the number of students obtaining bachelor's and graduate degrees, we now have this serious impediment put in their way?

Now that we have watched women embrace education as a ticket to their independence and success -- and joining the ranks of men in previously male-dominated disciplines in greater numbers -- we have a very real threat to these advances.

The progress that women have made in the past decade alone cannot be overstated. Not only have women achieved parity in obtaining a college education, but they also have parlayed that accomplishment into greater success in their careers as well.

Women now account for more than half of all managers in this country, and we have witnessed an increase in female primary breadwinners and stay-at-home dads.

To be sure, there is still much to be done in achieving total parity in the workplace, but now is not the time to take a giant step backward in this nation's historic effort to allow women their rightful place in our society.

The notion that independent, nonprofit colleges are attended by wealthier students than those at public schools couldn't be more wrong.

At Mills, a full 97 percent receive some form of financial aid. Twenty-four percent of all incoming, first-year students are the first in their family to attend college, and more than 40 percent of all undergraduates are women of color.

Most work -- in some cases, many hours per week -- in addition to going to school.

For many students, aid from programs such as Cal Grants is the difference between them being able to attend college or giving up or postponing that dream.

Should the Cal Grants program be slashed, Mills College will do everything in its power to help cover our current grant recipients in the short term. But as a nonprofit institution that has felt the economic downturn as much as other organizations, it will not be possible for us to sustain this support indefinitely.

Despite a recent Assembly subcommittee vote opposing the Cal Grant cuts, Brown appears unwilling to change his recommendation.

We need the governor to rethink this ill-conceived proposal, which will set women back in their goal to become financially independent and equal participants in our society -- and become greater contributors to California's and our nation's economic well-being.

We urge all Californians to let Brown and their legislators know that these proposed cuts are penny-wise and pound-foolish, and demand that they be rescinded.

We owe it to women, and indeed all students, who have worked so hard to improve their lives and their opportunities.

Alecia A. DeCoudreaux is president of Mills College.