Women will benefit greatly from necessary financial aid reform

College students performing research in a biology science class. (Photo: Rido, via Shutterstock)

A daughter of immigrants working hard labor jobs. A first-generation student who suffered the loss of her father and whose mom was laid off. A single mother working to provide for her three children.

 These are the students our California colleges would have lost and whose futures would have been limited were it not for financial aid. Their stories are powerful and ring true for many of our state’s women college students working to earn their degrees and break the cycle of poverty through education.

 Women disproportionately worry about affording college compared to male students, and that anxiety is compounded by first-generation female college attendees.

State leaders should all agree that the cost of college shouldn’t be a barrier to aspiring women who wish to earn a degree that will, in turn, advance sorely lacking gender and pay equity while strengthening our workforce at the same time.

The fact is, women are leading the way within higher education institutions and will continue to be drivers of our workforce once they graduate.

Consider that women represent a majority of  undergraduates across California public higher education: Women comprise 53% of students at California Community Colleges, 55% at California State Universities and 56% at Universities of California.

 Our state’s women students come from diverse communities, and many are often the first in their families to go to college. Here is a snapshot of these populations: 61% of all Black women enrolled in college statewide are attending a California Community College; 28% of attendees at the California State University are Latina; and 17% of women students attending the University of California are Latina.

 These students’ stories share a common theme: pursuing a degree would not be possible without financial aid. Even with it, most of these students are often forced to face the difficult challenges around prioritizing college, work, or family with their limited time and financial resources.

 The Cal Grant Equity Framework would benefit these students, ensuring that they can receive the financial aid awards to pay for their tuition and basic needs expenses by making applying easier to navigate and providing information on award they would be eligible for. Of the 150,000 more students Cal Grant would reach under the framework proposed in AB 1746, 91,000 would be additional female students who would be eligible for a Cal Grant.

 That is no small fact as to why this measure is such an important investment for women.

 In addition to simplifying the awards from eight programs to two, the equity framework expands access to Cal Grant awards for student parents, who qualify for even greater support to help address childcare costs.

Nationwide, the majority of student parents are single mothers working toward a degree and pursuing better paying jobs for their families. Who in good conscience would let the futures of mothers and families hang in the balance?

 Securing financial aid needed to attend college can make a difference across generations. One student shared with the Student Aid Commission that after suffering the loss of their father and then the experience of their mother losing her job, the prospect of higher education seemed out of reach. But with financial aid, they were able to earn their bachelor’s degree and ultimately convince their mother to return to college, who had left school for several years to be a single parent.

 Moreover, single mothers with college degrees earn more than $610,000 over the course of their lifetimes and are 69% less likely to live in poverty than their non-college-educated counterparts. Higher education is a proven vehicle to address gender and wage inequities across our state’s diverse communities.

 A reformed Cal Grant system fits perfectly within our governor’s vision for a California for ALL. Our state’s First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom has called for gender and pay equity to reflect the highest standards of economic, gender and racial equity.

The Cal Grant Equity Framework is one of the biggest opportunities for California to make its mark for gender equity and invest in our state’s women.

Ed’s Note: Surina A. Khan is the CEO of the Women’s Foundation California.

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