California Opens $475 Million Fund to Emergency Financial Aid for Students

October 18, 2019 Updated: October 18, 2019

California lawmakers have loosened the purse strings on an existing $475.2 million education fund that can now be tapped for college students in dire straits, under new legislation recently signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Higher education has the power to transform lives, and all hardworking young people in our state deserve a shot at it,” Newsom said in a media release. “This package of bills strikes at the forces that keep the doors of opportunity closed to too many people in our state. Together, we’re improving affordability, transparency and integrity in higher education.”

On Oct. 4, Newsom signed Assembly Bill 943 which allows community colleges to draw funds from an existing $475.2 million Student Equity and Achievement Program fund for emergency assistance grants. Colleges can now tap into the fund to offer financial aid to students who are at risk of dropping out or face an unexpected, short-term financial crisis, such as a short-term medical emergency or sudden eviction. Previously, the funds were set aside for student success services, but individual students weren’t able to access them.

AB 943 was passed unanimously in both the state assembly and senate, however the Senate Appropriations Committee warned in June “this bill could lead to the redirection of funds … away from other student support services that include tutoring, supplemental instruction and professional development” and that it “could then lead to potentially significant Proposition 98 General Fund cost pressure to maintain the existing level of these student support services.”

Amid a rash of college admissions scandals, some of the legislation is aimed at improving integrity in college admissions and holding for-profit colleges accountable.

“The budget also includes $41.8 million to increase the number of competitive Cal Grant scholarships and significantly increases funding for the University of California and California State University systems, facilitating tuition freezes and increased enrollment slots for the 2019-20 school year,” according to the release.

“Additionally, the budget includes $50 million for child savings accounts that aid families in managing future higher education expenses, and assists student parents through $96.7 million provided to support the living expenses of those with dependent children, and by establishing or increasing Cal Grant Access Awards, a two-generation approach that will help students complete their education and increase their future earning potential.”

After he was sworn in as governor in January, Newsom proposed two years of free college tuition for first-time, full-time students under the California College Promise program, which he signed into law in June.

“This is real help for students trying to improve their lives and build their future. No one can argue with the fact that the full cost of attending institutions of higher learning is still far too high—both in California and across the country,” Newsom said in an earlier statement in late August as students were heading back to the classroom. “But by offering two years of community college tuition-free, California is taking a meaningful step toward chipping away at the cost of higher learning for students and their families.”

The 2019-2020 state budget provides $42.6 million to waive tuition fees for an estimated 33,000 first-time, full-time community college students for a second academic year.

Colleges can choose whether or not to waive enrollment fees, so free tuition is not available at every college, California Community Colleges reported on its website.

According to the California Senate Republicans’ Highlights and Analysis of the 2019-20 Budget, the number of competitive Cal Grant awards would increase by more than 15,000, and students with dependent children would be eligible for larger awards. The budget also opens eligibility for Cal Grants to undocumented students.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) points out that even though 19 states allow in-state tuition rates for undocumented students, opponents argue the policy is too costly, and tax dollars should not be spent to support undocumented students.

“Organizations such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) contend that undocumented students should not have access to publicly funded benefits, including postsecondary education,” the NCSL stated in its Undocumented Student Tuition report released Sept. 19.

Undocumented students can apply for state financial aid through the California Dream Act website, according to the AB 540 website.

California community colleges serve more than 2.1 million students at 115 campuses across the state.

The Assembly Bills (AB) and Senate Bills (SB) Newsom recently signed include:

  • AB 2 by Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) – Community colleges: California College Promise.
  • AB 30 by Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) – Community colleges: College and Career Access Pathways partnerships.
  • AB 136 by Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) – Personal Income Tax Law: deductions: charitable contributions: business expenses.
  • AB 463 by Sabrina Cervantes (D-Riverside) – Community colleges: faculty members: loan forgiveness.
  • AB 540 by Monique Limόn (D-Santa Barbara) – Postsecondary education: student financial aid: California Dreamer Service Incentive Grant Program.
  • AB 697 by Philip Ting (D-San Francisco) – Postsecondary education: reports: preferential treatment: students related to donors or alumni.
  • AB 943 by David Chiu (D-San Francisco) – Community colleges: Student Equity and Achievement Program funds.
  • AB 1090 by Jose Medina (D-Riverside) – Public postsecondary education: waiver of mandatory campus-based fees.
  • AB 1278 by Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino) – Public postsecondary educational institutions: public services and programs: internet website notification.
  • AB 1313 by Luz Rivas (D-Arleta) – Higher education: prohibited debt collection practices.
  • AB 1340 by David Chiu (D-San Francisco) – Private postsecondary education: California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009: labor market outcome data reporting.
  • AB 1344 by Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) – Private postsecondary education: California Private Postsecondary Act of 2009.
  • AB 1346 by Jose Medina (D-Riverside) – Postsecondary education: California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009: Student Tuition Recovery Fund.
  • AB 1383 by Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) – Public postsecondary education: admission by exception.
  • AB 1504 by Jose Medina (D-Riverside) – Community colleges: student representation fee: statewide community college student organization: goals.
  • AB 1774 by Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) – Student financial aid: Student Aid Commission: extension of application deadlines.
  • SB 150 by Jim Beall (D-San Jose) – Student financial aid: Chafee grant awards.
  • SB 354 by Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) – California DREAM Loan Program: graduate degree programs.
  • SB 467 by Bill Monning (D-Carmel) – Postsecondary education: cost-of-living categories.
  • SB 554 by Richard Roth (D-Riverside) – Public schools: adult school students: Advanced Scholastic and Vocational Training Program.
  • SB 586 by Richard Roth (D-Riverside) – College and Career Access Pathways partnerships.