Campus Cal Grant Roundtable

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, center, talks about possible Cal Grant cuts to students at a roundtable lunch Friday, May 2.

At a roundtable lunch last Friday, May 2, 10 Saint Mary’s students—all Cal Grant recipients—shared their stories about the difficulties of affording college and how crucial the grant is to their education, with three state legislators, legislative staff members and President Jim Donahue. The students talked about being the first in their families to go to college, and stretching already strained household budgets to attend Saint Mary’s. They spoke of single parents working three jobs, working two jobs themselves while going to college full time, and how grateful they are for the Cal Grant money.

Right now, Cal Grants for the private nonprofit sector could plunge by 11 percent—the third year of cuts in a row—a loss of up to $1,028 for incoming freshmen receiving the maximum amount.

“Without the Cal Grant I wouldn’t be able to come to Saint Mary’s,” said senior Avi Fernandez from Novato, who moved to the United States from Peru with her mother. “I think of my little cousins who look up to me, who will be at my graduation. The Cal Grant is for them.”

Junior Brandon Lutz, a transfer student from Diablo Valley College who has a 2-year-old son and spends his evenings working at the Walking Company said, “You don’t want to cut the foundations of society out from under it.”

Assemblymembers Susan Bonilla and Joan Buchanan, and State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, who all represent parts of Contra Costa County, plus senior staff members from the offices of Assemblymember Jim Frazier and State Senator Lois Wolk, shared sandwiches and salad with the students in the Founders Room.

“This $15 million budget is not a large issue,” said former Cal Grant recipient Bonilla, who represents the 14th District, about the portion of the state budget allotted for the grant. “[But] for each one of you, it could make the difference between graduating and not graduating.”

When the Cal Grant was cut a few years ago, junior Mackenzie Souza from Merced County, whose parents both lost their jobs recently, said, “I had to pay $1,000 out of my own pocket and I was already working two jobs.”

After listening to the students’ emotional stories, Donahue said, “This is an incredibly moving and profound experience. I feel so blessed that you are with us and that we are together on this journey. It’s moving to hear what you go through to be here at Saint Mary’s College. We are going to roll up our sleeves and do everything we can.”

Governor Jerry Brown plans to introduce a revised budget sometime in the next few weeks, which could include removing the scheduled 11 percent Cal Grant cut for incoming students, that was part of last year’s budget. There are about 650 current Saint Mary’s students who receive Cal Grants.