Opinion

Community college students need better financial aid

Students sharing knowledge in a college study hall. (Photo: Rawpixel.com

California Community colleges do an outstanding job offering degree attainment and education opportunities that lead to rewarding careers for the 2.1 million students who attend. But far too many of those students cannot cover enrollment fees and basic living expenses, putting them at risk.

The current financial aid formula does not fully address the needs of students working to meet their academic goals, and in many cases, working full-time to support themselves and their families. Just last week, the Governor’s May Budget Revise devoted need-based funds to UC and CSU but not to community college students.

We need the legislation by Sen. Connie Leyva (SB 291) that will change this unfair imbalance by focusing on financial aid that covers the true cost of attendance for our students.

While enrollment fees remain low at California Community Colleges, it is extremely difficult for most low-income students to achieve their educational goals.

At Compton College, our students face many obstacles in their academic journey. The facts are staggering. In 2017-2018, 7,939 Compton College students (44 percent of our student body) received some form of financial aid.

The most widely used program was the California College Promise Grant, formerly the Board of Governors Fee Waiver (BOGFW), with 43 percent of Compton students receiving an award only covering enrollment fees. In the same year, the proportion of Compton College students receiving a College Promise Grant dropped by nearly two percentage points.

The California Community Colleges #RealCollege Survey Report recently released by The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office reflected, 59 percent of Compton College students said they are food insecure, 68 percent are housing insecure, and 18 percent of students said they experienced homelessness in the past year.

It’s a jarring reality that is far too prevalent at Compton College and throughout the California Community Colleges and it is imperative that need-based financial aid be available to our students.

While enrollment fees remain low at California Community Colleges, it is extremely difficult for most low-income students to achieve their educational goals due to our state’s higher cost of living and the lack of adequate financial aid to cover non-tuition expenses such as textbooks, transportation, basic housing and food.

The new grant program would ensure a greater state investment in financial aid by focusing on need-based awards. Under California’s current financial aid structure, too little grant money is available to help community college students cover essential, non-tuition costs.

A new grant program for this important population is necessary to ensure a meaningful commitment to college affordability.

This limited state aid means it can be more expensive for low-income students to attend a community college than the University of California. Eighty percent of community college students who qualify for federal Pell Grants do not receive a Cal Grant. Many community college students work multiple jobs to make ends meet but continue to struggle to meet basic needs.

Current financial aid options simply don’t cover costs that make up the majority of student expenses. The annual average cost for California community college students to pay for textbooks, transportation, room and board, and personal necessities totals approximately $18,441. Annual enrollment fees is approximately $1,380 for a full-time student. Even with enrollment fees waived, financial challenges remain the greatest obstacle to college completion.

Advocates for financial aid reform believe a key strategy for California’s long-term prosperity is to have a larger and more equitable investment in community college students. I agree and believe a student’s financial aid should be linked to the true cost of attendance – not just enrollment fees, but also housing, food, transportation and supplies.

We all have a stake in this. A new grant program for this important population is necessary to ensure a meaningful commitment to college affordability by providing significant additional financial support to students with the greatest financial need. Compton College students, which serves 60% Latinx students and 25% African American students, would benefit greatly from the passage of Senate Bill 291.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Keith Curry is President and CEO of Compton College.

 


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: