As the state of California faces a decrease in the number of college graduates required for a competitive workforce, the California state legislature has increased pressure on both the UC and California State University (CSU) systems to increase four-year graduation rates. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the projected number of degrees in 2030 is nearly 1.1 million short of what constitutes a competitive Californian workforce. In order to close the gap, the legislature has asked the UC system to increase enrollment to confer an additional 250,000 degrees by 2030. Similar requests have also been asked of the CSU system.
As greater pressure has been placed on university systems to enroll additional students, we also see a shift in the California state legislature’s attitude towards increasing four-year graduation rates. Many legislators in Sacramento have a vested interest in the economic power that an educated workforce provides the state, and as a result have been eyeing four-year graduation rates as a way to both decrease state costs while reaping the economic benefits from graduated students in their post-graduation years. This is due to the fact that the longer you attend a four-year institution, the higher the cost of your degree for both the individual as well as the state. When seeking to address soaring student debt the usual solution proposed is to decrease the total time to completion. This has led to the introduction of a slew of bills aiming to increase the minimum course load and, in theory, increase four-year graduation rates.
What these proposed policies fail to account for, however, are the reasons why students are taking longer than four years to graduate. Factors such as the responsibility of outside employment, family commitments, and financial hardships can make four years quickly turn into five or even six. At UC San Diego for example, the average four year graduation rate of Pell Grant-eligible students is 52.7 percent while the six year graduation rate is 85.5 percent. When compared to the 64.3 percent four-year graduation rates of non-Pell Grant recipients, we see a trend. When students have additional financial resources, they are able to graduate faster.
A recent and quite notable example of this is Assembly Bill 2248, which was proposed earlier in 2018 by Kevin McCarty, the chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, which funds higher education systems. Rather than increase the resources to better equip students to graduate in four years, the bill went against state, federal, and university definitions of what constitutes a full-time status for financial aid, and implemented a higher unit minimum (from 12 units to 15!) instead. Rather than taking into account the factors that contribute to low four-year graduation rates, this legislator chose to propose a bill which would target already vulnerable low-income students, such as parents and student workers, in order to cut Cal Grant eligibility and possibly increase the time to graduation for students in California.
However, there are California legislators that see this as an issue and are willing to put the needed resources in order to make it more accessible for California’s students to graduate in four years or less. This is where Assembly Bill 3153 comes in. Assembly Bill 3153 is currently being pushed through the California state legislature by Assemblymember Marc Levine. This effort was spearheaded by UC Santa Barbara student leaders working in the campus financial aid office who discovered that students eligible for Cal Grants needed additional financial aid during the summer.
This bill offers a sustainable solution to help alleviate the issue of low graduation rates, because rather than stripping resources away from low-income students who already struggle to graduate in four years, it provides additional resources to those students and empowers them to graduate as quickly as possible. The federal government has taken notice of this and recently extended the federal Pell Grant to be a year-round program. California needs to follow suit.
On April 24, this bill made it out of the Assembly Higher Education Committee with an 8-0 vote. It is headed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee (chaired by San Diego legislator Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher) next.
If a state’s budget is a reflection of its values, then it is clear that in order to ensure a strong economy, educated workforce, and accessible higher education systems we need to reinvest in our students.
To sign the petition to support Assembly Bill 3153 and extend the Cal Grant, please go to tinyurl.com/summercalgrant.
Caroline Siegel Singh currently sits on the Associated Students of UCSD as External Vice President-Elect and is a UC Student Association Board Member. The positions stated here do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Triton, any of its members, or any of its affiliates. We welcome responses to opinion pieces. If you’d like to submit a response, or comment on a different issue affecting the UC community, please submit here.