Legislation to Help Community College Students Cover Total Cost of Attendance Passes Senate

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SB 291 will improve college access and student graduation rates

SACRAMENTO – In order to address the quickly escalating total costs of attending community college, the California State Senate approved legislation Thursday that establishes the California Community College Student Financial Aid Program that would base financial aid on not only the cost of tuition, but rather on the total cost of attendance—including the cost of housing, transportation and textbooks.

Authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino), SB 291 creates a new financial aid award program to help pay for expenses not already covered by a student’s family contributions, employment, and other aid, such as Pell Grants and the Cal Grant program. Under the program, financial aid would be available whether a student is seeking a degree, certificate, or short-term career education program.

“In recent years, the true cost of attending college has made higher education difficult or even impossible to achieve for far too many students,” Senator Leyva said.  “Unfortunately, the true cost of attending community college is much more than just tuition.  When non-tuition costs like housing, food, transportation and textbooks are considered, it is unacceptable that community college is typically more expensive for the lowest-income students than other state universities.  SB 291 will ensure that our community colleges remain affordable for everyone by creating this important financial aid program that helps to cover a community college student’s whole cost of attendance.”

While nearly 40 percent of undergraduates at the University of California system and approximately 36 percent of students at the California State University system received a Cal Grant last year, only five percent of community college students received one.  California community colleges enroll about two-thirds of the state’s undergraduate students, yet they receive only seven percent of Cal Grant funds.

Though California’s community colleges offer among the least expensive tuition rates in the country at $46 per unit, the actual cost of attending a community college for a student living independently is more than $20,000 annually when housing, transportation, textbooks and personal items are taken into account.  A California community college student receiving the maximum amount of aid possible today would still fall thousands of dollars short. Very few community college students qualify for financial aid to cover living expenses, transportation or textbooks, and low-income students with unmet financial need have limited choices: work more hours, take fewer courses, accumulate what can become crushing debt, or drop out of school.

Co-sponsored by the California Community Colleges Board of Governors and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, SB 291 is supported by the Asian Pacific American Leadership Foundation, California Coalition for Youth, California Edge Coalition, California Federation of Teachers, California Workforce Association, Campaign for College Opportunity, Community College League of California, Greater Sacramento Urban League, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Social Workers / California Chapter, Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, The Education Trust – West, The Institute for College Access & Success, United Food and Commercial Workers / Western States Council, Urban League of San Diego County, community college student and faculty organizations, as well as many community college districts from across California.

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