"Cal Grant allowed me to go to school," said Estrella Cedillo '12. "My brother was not so lucky. After high school, his option was the military. That was not an option I wanted to take."
Cedillo was one of four Saint Mary's students who joined dozens of other students from independent colleges at the annual Cal Grant Lobby Day on March 9 in Sacramento. Students from throughout California met with legislators and senior staff members to tell them about the impact Cal Grants have had on their lives and their ability to pursue higher education.
"The Cal Grant has let me complete my undergraduate degree in four years," said Kaitlin Anthony '11. "If it were not for Cal Grant, I would not be here right now. I might not even be in school." Like Anthony, most of the students who were lobbying are on track to graduate in four years. Several in three.
Many SMC Students Receive Cal Grants
Cal Grants are awards covering up to $9,703 of tuition that are made through the California Student Aid Commission to eligible students from low- and middle-income families. For 630 of Saint Mary's students, or nearly 25 percent of all undergraduates, the Cal Grant represents a substantial portion of their financial aid package.
The scholarship program is largely funded in the proposed 2011-12 state budget. But the budget must be passed by the legislature, and a tax extension must be approved by voters in a June special election, or the state must find an additional $12.5 billion in spending cuts, which could threaten education funding.
Sitting in a crowed legislative office, Ana Mendoza '12 said, "Cal Grant has had a tremendous impact in financing my education. If it were not for Cal Grant, I would probably take out even more loans and it would make it harder for my family to cover expenses." Many students said that without a Cal Grant, they would probably attend local community colleges, thus flooding the system with thousands more students in an already critically overcrowded system.
Legislators Urge Vote on the Budget
State Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), who was a Cal Grant recipient herself, told students to get the word out about the vote on the budget. "Make sure all your friends and family are registered to vote and make sure they vote," she said.
In addition to speaking with legislators, the students had a private meeting with Diana Fuentes-Michel, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission. Fuentes-Michel urged the students to encourage their legislator to place the budget measure before the voters.
Alana Armstrong '12 visited the office of her state assemblymember, Bill Berryhill (R-Turlock). Berryhill was in a committee hearing, so Armstrong urged his staff member to urge the legislator to support the governor's plan to put the budget proposal on the ballot. "I trust the voters to make the right decisions," she said. "Let the voters decide."
Director of Community and Government Relations