Courtesy of Layna Lapikas / The Highlander

In his updated fiscal year 2024-2025 budget plan, Governor Gavin Newsom is proposing significant cuts in funding for the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems. Faced with an estimated $44.9 billion budget deficit, Gov. Newsom is now proposing a reduction of $125 million in funding for UC, which he says will be rectified in the 2025-2026 budget plan. However, in 2022, Newsom promised to support the growth of the state’s public universities with a five-year growth plan by allocating $2 billion in funding. This reduction, along with other proposals for the Cal Grant and Middle-Class Scholarship programs, will undoubtedly place a heavier burden on students who are already struggling to make ends meet. 

Cal Grant, one of the state’s most extensive financial aid programs, primarily provides cash aid to California Community Colleges (CCC) as “67% of student recipients” in 2020 were enrolled at CCC “compared to 22% at CSU and 4% at UC.” Supporting the lowest-income students, the Cal Grant program has grown in the past few years, with more money being offered to students each academic year. If the program were to continue growing, as had been anticipated, it was projected Cal Grants would reach “$2,000 per student by 2030” rather than the current average of $1,600.

However, by proposing to limit its expansion, CCC students’ financial aid packages will be reduced. In reports, CCC states that 64% of its students are low-income, 46% are Latino and 35% are first-generation — many of whom come from the Central Valley and Inland Empire. These underrepresented and underserved students often choose a community college path for its greater financial accessibility and less costly tuition than four-year institutions. Limiting the financial aid these students rely on affects their path to higher education.

The budget proposal would also cut $100 million of funding for the Middle-Class Scholarship, which has previously “received more than $600 million annually.” The Middle-Class Scholarship serves 300,000 students whose families earn up to $217,000. On average, Middle-Class Scholarship recipients receive $1,970. Unlike the Cal Grant, which is awarded to the lowest-income students, the Middle-Class Scholarship assists the next income tier of students who comprise a large majority of the UC students. Gov. Newsom’s plan to reduce funding for this scholarship program will make paying UC’s increasing tuition rates more difficult. Considering that UC housing costs continue to grow year-over-year, particularly at UCR, reducing student award amounts will hurt deserving students at a time of greater need. 

According to the University of California, Riverside (UCR) Financial Aid website, “87% of UCR’s undergraduates receive financial aid,” and “98% of those students receive gift aid.” Additionally, “77% of those who receive aid have their full fees covered by grants and/or scholarships.” UCR students receive the most financial aid out of all the UC campuses, with an average of approximately $22,000, including grants, loans and work-study. Gov. Newsom’s cuts to the Middle-Class Scholarship and refusal to expand the Cal Grant program will undoubtedly negatively impact many UCR students. 

While Gov. Newsom couldn’t have anticipated the state deficit in 2022 when he promised to expand these financial aid programs, cutting funding for public education is not the answer. The proposed funding cuts also come at a time when many students are struggling to apply for financial aid due to ongoing problems with the revised FAFSA. 

Moreover, studies have shown that a UC or CSU education yields a higher short-term return on investment than a non-California public university. Thus, state support for UC and CSU makes financial sense by paying dividends in years to come. Reducing funding for financial aid programs that millions of students need to attend college will only have negative consequences. California should be prioritizing accessibility to higher education, not creating more barriers.