Community Colleges Strive for Better State Federal Aid

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About 95 percent of Southwestern College’s 19,867 students are eligible for the Board of Governors Fee Waiver (BOGW). State leaders are working to make sure qualified students are taking advantage of the benefits available to them.

BOGW covers health fees, student center fees and lower parking fees, among other expenses. Though it pays for courses, it does not cover course materials like textbooks or lab equipment. Cal Grant Competitive Awards provide financial support beyond the BOGW, including books and transit passes.

The California College Promise (CCP) is proposed legislation that would increase Cal Grant awards from $1,600 to $3,000 and boost the number of community college students who receive awards from 25,500 to 30,000. It would also expand access to the California Community College Transfer Entitlement Award by raising the age limit from 28 to 31. About 30 percent of community college students are 29 or older.

A potential increase in the BOGW eligibility is also on the table, according to the SWC Public Information Officer Lillian Leopold.

“The California Promise would expand the BOG Fee Waiver and Cal Grant B and C to include more than just fees,” she said.

Among the California community college students eligible for BOGW, about 1 million have their fees waived each year. BOGW students take 66 percent of the total units taught at state community colleges.

Leopold compared the CCP to President Obama’s call for free community college tuition.

“California has always been ahead of the curve,” she said. “With the BOG Fee Waiver college is pretty much free already, except for materials. That is why we’re encouraging students to apply for the Cal Grants.”

Cal Grants are available to four-year university students, who receive 94 percent of the funding, while community college students receive the remaining 6 percent.

“Once the total cost of attendance and all available financial aid is taken into account, it is more expensive for a financially needy student to attend a community college than a UC or CSU campus,” according to CCP campaign materials. “Only 25,500 awards (are available) for over 300,000 qualified applicants. It is significantly easier to gain admission to UC Berkeley or UCLA than to receive a Cal Grant.”

Leopold agreed.

“Although the community college system is a much larger student population than the CSUs and the UCs, (2.1 million vs. 713,271) we get a smaller percentage of the Cal Grants,” she said. “That’s why this legislation is coming forward, to not only increase the number of students who would get it, but also increase the amount they would get.”

Leopold said the legislation also calls for a simplified FAFSA form.

“When I had to fill that FAFSA for my daughter when she was in college, it was really hard to understand,” she said. “Then if English isn’t your first language, forget it.”

Film major Gonzalo Luis Gutierrez, 31, said he relies on the BOGW.

“Just having the waiver helps me come to school,” he said. “It’s direct and I get the benefits for it right away, meaning I don’t have to pay for my classes. For this level of college, it’s a good alternative to other financial aid because I don’t need that much money, just enough to get through classes.”

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