2019-20 Budget Takes Steps to Make College More Accessible for Historically Overlooked Students

Correction: A previous version of this document referred to summer financial aid opportunities as "Cal Grants." The aid passed in the budget will not go through the Cal Grant program, but will be directed to campuses to administer to qualified students. 

New Higher Education Budget Will Serve Wide Range of Students

Today, the California Legislature approved the state’s $214.8 billion Budget Bill (AB 74).

The state’s 2019-20 spending plan includes numerous investments in higher education—from increased enrollment and expanded financial aid to much needed capacity and infrastructure improvements. While still requiring the Governor’s signature to take effect, this newly approved budget acknowledges some of the very real challenges today’s college students face while trying to earn postsecondary credentials.

Financial Aid Will Extend to the Summer Term

For the first time, state financial aid will be available to students over the summer, an important reform to address California’s lagging college completion rates. As a result of this key policy change, students can enroll in courses year-round, improving their likelihood of graduating on time and accessing the state’s growing economic opportunities.

New Financial Aid Opportunities for Student Parents, Older Students, and Others

The budget also signals the understanding that non-traditional students are increasingly the norm in California and across the country.  Students with dependent children and those more than a year out of high school will see more support through increased Cal Grant Access Awards and more competitive Cal Grant slots. New funding also targets mental health services, housing, and food, but not at the level needed to comprehensively cover students’ nontuition costs of college.

This year’s budget targets the substantial challenges faced by today’s college students, many of whom are working and supporting families while working toward their postsecondary goals. We are enthusiastic about this initial progress and urge our state leaders to continue the charge. – Ria Bhatt

Funding for Critical Capital Projects and New Data System

The budget also invests in higher education infrastructure, investing considerable resources in deferred maintenance backlogs that have taken a toll on institutions’ ability to serve students. Furthermore, the budget takes initial steps to develop a comprehensive longitudinal data system necessary for transparent understanding of the full education-to-employment pipeline. Funding both items this year marks a policy shift from previous budgets.

This year’s investments represent important progress toward building equity and transparency in California’s higher education system. Increases in spending on today’s college students and the systems that support them are a welcome acknowledgement that higher education is a priority for the state. However, there is more work to do. To make college accessible for more Californians and fuel our growing workforce in the long term, our state must sustain these policy changes and forge new ones.

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