District 31 State Senator Richard Roth recently introduced Senate Bill 461 which would expand the current Cal Grant program to encompass two additional summer terms of up to nine units of course credits. The bill has been immediately endorsed and championed by the Coalition for a Better UC (CBUC), a student-led activist organization that focuses on tackling socioeconomic issues facing college students across the entire state.

The Highlander reached out to Roth to talk more about the Bill and why he is advocating for it. “We must have mechanisms in place to assure our college students are successful. Students will enroll in summer session courses if there is sufficient aid to allow them to afford the higher tuition and fees; we must offer that flexibility,” said Roth. “If we don’t listen to what our students are telling us they need we not only continue to fail them, but we fail as a state.”

Part of the motivation for expanding the Cal Grant program is due to the fact that over 70 percent of current CSU students do not graduate within four years, which takes a substantial financial toll on disadvantaged communities in California, according to Senator Roth’s office. Edwin Chikukwa of the CBUC stated that “students, administrations, public advocates and even the California Student Aid Commission all did the calculations and came to the same conclusion, SB 461 will alleviate California’s dismal graduation deficits.”

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, if current trends persist, California will be short more than 1 million college graduates by 2030. A large impediment to increased graduation rates is the lack of financial aid available for students during summer sessions.

“California won’t be able to meet its workforce and economic demands due in part to college students not graduating within a 4-year timeframe,” said Roth. “We must act now to provide relief that will not only improve graduation rates but will guarantee California has a strong, competitive workforce by 2030.”

SB 461 will attempt to follow the successful model of the Pell Grant system. The federal government recently extended Pell Grant eligibility to include summer sessions, due to the need

of year-round aid for college students. Having access to the Pell Grant during the summer allows students across the nation to receive up to 150 percent of the regular grant awarded over the academic year, allowing them to afford to enroll in summer classes and achieve their degrees in a faster time-frame, according to Kaitlyn Lewis, spokeswoman for Senator Roth.

The bill has already received official sponsorship from the University of California Student Association (UCSA) and the University of California Office of the President (UCOP). Chikukwa, who serves as chair of the CBUC, added that “the kind of consensus and coalition building (on this bill) did not happen by accident, and it means multiple respectable organizations calculated and came to the same conclusion we believe the state will come to, that SB 461 will help alleviate California’s dismal graduation deficits.” California State Student Association President Mia Kagianas agreed, saying that “reforming financial aid is necessary to support California’s low-income students, in which Summer Cal Grant is a pillar of need as well.”