The California State Students Association (CSSA) combined forces with the California State University to back an assembly bill promising to increase California’s allotment of financial aid.

Assembly Bill 2813, authored by Assembly member Hector De la Torre (D-South Gate), seeks three core modifications in the Cal Grant Program.

AB 2813 proposes allocating financial support to Cal Grant B recipients to cover first-year tuition, increasing the number of competitive Cal Grants from 22,500 to 45,000 and raising Cal Grant age eligibility from 24 to 27.

“This bill is good for California students across the board, not just Cal Poly students,” said Cal Poly director of financial aid Lois Kelly.

As the Cal Grant program currently stands, there are four different groupings of recipients. A student is awarded either an entitlement or a competitive grant in either the A or B category. An A recipient must have above a 3.0 GPA and a B recipient must have above a 2.0 GPA.

Entitlement grants are based on financial need and must be applied for within 18 months of high school graduation. For those who meet the criteria, the number of entitlement grants awarded is limitless in California.

Competitive grants, on the other hand, are far more competitive as their name implied. The 22,500 currently allotted in the state are given to those who do not fit in the entitlement category, such as those who do not apply for financial within 18 months of high school graduation.

“The competitive program tends to serve older, returning, non-traditional students,” said CSSA director for governmental relations Laura Kerr.

Last year there were over 130,000 applicants for the available competitive grants, leaving over 100,000 declined, said Cal Poly ASI President Tylor Middlestadt.

By doubling the number of competitive grants, AB 2813 is aiming to accommodate the growing financial need in California.

“California has made a commitment to making higher education affordable,” Kerr said. “Disturbingly, there has been a trend in the last 20 years to divest in higher education.”

The current Cal Grant program was implemented in 2000, which Kerr called “an awesome first step,” but said “six years later it is clear that we can do better and really must do better.”

A major goal of AB 2813 is to give Cal Grant B entitlement recipients funding for tuition and fees for all four years of their college careers, while currently the first year’s tuition is excluded. As of now, only A recipients are allotted first-year tuition money, although B recipients do receive a stipend not given to A recipients.

Kerr said that the Cal Grant program established in 2000 was created under the assumption that the majority of B recipients would not attend a CSU or UC, instead opting to obtain a fee waiver at a community college.

The final aim of AB 2813 is boosting the age of Cal Grant eligibility, which is especially pertinent to transfer students.

“One of the things we’ve been fighting for a long time is ending age discrimination,” Middlestadt said.

Kelly said at Cal Poly she has seen “a few that have exceeded that age limit, particularly if they transferred,” adding that “it’s really tough to say there’s this arbitrary age cut-off; I have a real hard time with that.”

The Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) estimated the cost of the three-year age increase to be $1.6 million, Middlestadt said, making it by far the least expensive of the three proposed changes of AB 2813.

Middlestadt said the LAO estimated that doubling the number of competitive grants would cost $49 million, while allotting first-year tuition for Cal Grant B entitlement recipients would cost $77 million.

While AB 2813 won bipartisan favor and unanimous support recently in front of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, Kerr said the “biggest test” will be in front of Assembly Appropriations.

Middlestadt said the bill’s “significant fiscal impact” could call for modifications. He said the LAO has recommended a phasing in the implementation of first-year tuition costs for B recipients, as well as altogether deleting the section that would double competitive grants.

A separate proposal, Senate Bill 1751, authored by Sen. Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco), also aims to increase the number of competitive grants, Middlestadt said.

If AB 2813 does pass, even non-Cal Grant recipients attending Cal Poly will benefit, Kelly said.

“It frees up some of the financial assistance that we have here that we can give to these highly needy students who are not eligible for (Cal Grant assistance),” she said.

So far, the bill has not received any major opposition, Kelly said, adding “we’re really excited this year to see it got the Republicans vote.”

Groups in support of the bill include the California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) and the University of California Student Association.

“To be honest, I think this bill has the best chance of passing out of any bill that students have been in support of in the recent past,” Middlestadt said.

The date is not yet set for AB 2813 to be heard in front of Assembly Appropriations.

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