Community Colleges Fret Over Cal Grant Shortages

The budget battle in Sacramento drags on and all sorts of programs that can't run without state money wait and wait and wonder what to do. It's especially tough on community colleges. The state owes them nearly one billion dollars. While they wait for the money, each college has to decide how much it should do to help low-income students stay in school. KPCC's Julie Small reports.

Julie Small: Every community college in California is struggling with a tough decision. The state hasn't paid them any money, and it hasn't issued Cal Grant checks to low-income college students. The $1,500 annual grants help those students buy textbooks and bus passes, and pay the rent.

There are 110 community colleges in California, and 20 or so have decided to front Cal Grant money to their students. One of them is L.A. Trade-Tech, where about 80 percent of the students are Latino or African-American. But at many other community colleges...

Martha Parham: Students aren't getting anything. We're not fronting the money to them. We don't have it to front.

Small: Martha Parham is with the Coast Community College District in Orange County. It runs Golden West College in Huntington Beach, and Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. Parham says it would cost the district a million dollars to front Cal Grant money to students. Parham says that would be risky. The legislature hasn't yet approved the money to fund all the Cal Grants this year.

Parham: We have no guarantee that it's going to be approved in the budget, so we don't want to put ourselves in a position of fronting money that we're not gonna ever get paid back.

Small: Pasadena City College has figured out a way to make up the difference temporarily. Assistant Dean Kim Miles says they've dipped into all sorts of financial pots to get money to low-income students.

Kim Miles: We have institutional funds, we have short term loan programs, all different types of other mechanism that we employed to make sure that the students were being taken care of.

Small: Miles says those funds only stretch so far. If there's no budget by the middle of the semester...

Miles: I'm suspecting that by then it will become crunch time for these students.

Small: Other community colleges are hoping they won't have to decide one way or the other whether to front students the Cal Grant money. Like the rest of California, they're hearing that a state budget might come soon. But they've been hearing that just about every week since the legislature blew the July 1st budget deadline.

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