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Finalized State Budget Supports Higher Education

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This year’s California state budget includes increased support for the California State University (CSU) and other higher education segments.

Every January, the Governor proposes a budget to both houses of the State Legislature (Senate and Assembly) where they simultaneously make adjustments to it. The Governor then submits a revised budget proposal in May after tax revenues are collected in April. The Legislature then has a constitutional deadline of June 15 to pass the final budget act. The total amount for the 2015-16 state budget is approximately $115 billion due to revenues that surpassed Governor Jerry Brown’s initial estimates.

California’s new budget will have an enormous impact on Sac State students and the CSU as a whole. Back in 2012, Governor Brown reached an agreement with the CSU Board of Trustees (BOT) where he would award the CSU with approximately $120 million every year for five years in exchange for the BOT freezing tuition rates for the same five year span. This new 2015-16 budget honors that agreement; awarding the CSU $119.5 million while keeping the tuition freeze in place through the 2016-17 year. On top of the $119.5 million, the Legislature and Governor agreed to provide an addition, ongoing amount of $97 million to the CSU. This results in a total of $216.5 million additional, ongoing funding. The extra $97 million will:

  • Increase CSU enrollment by 10,400
  • Provide more full-time faculty
  • Improve graduation rates

Another substantive change in the state budget is an increase in Competitive Cal Grant Awards. Currently, the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) awards a total of 22,500 Cal Grants each year. The 2015-16 budget provides an additional $8 million to the Cal Grant fund. This new money will be used to provide an additional 3,250 Cal Grant awards for a total of 25,750 given out each year. This number will continue to increase through the 2017-18 year, assuming revenues are as projected.

Financial aid to students was also changed in the budget with alterations to the Middle Class Scholarship (MCS). The MCS is a program that pays for up to 40% of tuition for students whose families’ income is $150,000 or less annually. The 2015-16 budget adds an “asset test” to the MCS that did not exist before. An asset test examines a family’s overall wealth, not just their income. Currently, a hypothetical student whose family earns less than $150,000 is eligible to receive the MCS even if his/her family owns $2 million of land. This new test will require a family’s assets to also be less than $150,000.

Additionally, the amount of MCS funds will be reduced over the next few years. The MCS fund is scheduled to grow each year until it reaches its $305 million cap in 2017-18. The MCS reductions is as follows:

  • From $152 million to $82 million in 2015-16
  • From $228 million  to $116 million in 2016-17
  • From $305 million to $159 million in 2017-18

The savings from reducing the annual amount of MCS awards will be used in other ways to support higher education. The Governor and Legislature believe that the funds could benefit a greater number of students if used elsewhere than the in the way the MCS currently stands.

This amazing accomplishment of attaining the additional $97 million is a significant feat. Sac State ASI has been advocating for this money for nearly two years now. Last budget season, the CSU was trying to get an additional $95 million and ended up receiving $50 million in the final budget act. This year, we got the whole $97 million we were asking for. This was a combined, coordinated effort between CSU administration, faculty, staff, and students. The tireless work of the California State Student Association (CSSA) and ASIs all over the state helped make this happen. As the Office of Governmental Affairs Director for Sac State ASI, I would like to particularly recognize Lauren Lombardo, Jenny Bach, Ryan Allain, Melissa Bardo, Patrick Dorsey, Zachary Corbo, Tyler Jimenez, Aryn Fields, Sean Healy, and Marcus Wolf for advocating for students at the State Capitol during this budget season. We did it!

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