The longer this year goes on, the more apparent it becomes that even the most generous sources of Californian financial aid are outdated. The Cal Grant program, which offers some of the greatest student aid in the nation, is no exception. Like many other systems in California, the financial aid packages can be quite difficult to access, especially for historically marginalized students. The system for giving Cal Grants can even be considered racist, according to Audrey Dow of Campaign for College Opportunity, because of how the current system almost seems to deliberately leave out students of color. A reform proposal for Cal Grant has been created, and it must go through in order to support the thousands of students across California who are being left out of this relief.
California as a whole has financial aid systems that are difficult to use because of how outdated government websites are, from a lack of language options to pages and pages of confusing applications. The Cal Grant is no exception to this rule. While the website itself is refined and updated, the actual application can be confusing to navigate, despite the site saying that it has advisors and workshops to assist applicants. However, the grant’s mission to provide “all Californians” with financial relief continuously leaves out students of color. This is because family incomes are not assessed properly due in part to the complex application process. This isn’t even to mention the fact that many students of color have a high likelihood of also being first-generation students. The unfortunate reality for many first-generation students is that they don’t have as easy of a time applying to financial aid or navigating application processes because they don’t have an older mentor or any guidance on how to do so. To make the Cal Grant fall into this same category of being difficult to apply for is cruel to these students in particular.
Most financial relief in general also fails to take into account that many students do not have families with traditional jobs that can be easily put into the Internal Revenue Service database. When filing for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also called FAFSA, students can have the option for their parents’ tax returns to be taken directly from the IRS. However, it completely leaves out undocumented students, so they get no federal aid whatsoever simply because there’s no tax returns. Furthermore, if a student happens to be estranged from one of their parents but is in a situation where their tax returns are still required, it means that they must go on a wild goose chase to get into contact with that other parent. This causes an unnecessary amount of stress and potential trauma for the student..
Essentially, the brokenness of the Cal Grant system is a microcosm of how difficult it is to get any sort of financial aid in general. With so many hoops to jump through just for some relief, it’s no wonder so many students give up through the complicated process. Though it is understandable that the government would expect these documents, there must be reform throughout the entire system so all students get equal opportunities for relief.
Furthermore, many students get left out of financial aid like the Cal Grant because their parents make just above the threshold for getting lots of aid, thereby losing out on plenty of money. Financial aid systems assume that just because a household makes enough money to be above the threshold, they can pay the entirety of their child’s college fund. This does not take into account that it may be enough for them to live comfortably but not to shoulder such immense costs, or that they may be sending more than one child off to college. This lack of care for individual situations leaves even more students out to dry when it comes to relief.
The Cal Grant reform hopes to make the process of getting aid easier for marginalized students and others. But if this reform does happen, though it is possibly shaky considering Gavin Newsom’s recent veto against expanding the Cal Grant, the reform process cannot simply stop there. Financial aid is too important to too many students for it to not be reformed nationwide so that the most amount of students can get the most amount of money. The state needs to streamline its process for accessing these resources and stop making it so difficult for those who need the aid. If the state wants to say that students are the future, they need to put their money where their mouth is and invest in the next generation of college students.