Fix Financial Aid (FFA)

One of the biggest obstacles impacting a student’s interest in college is the issue of cost. Although federal and state financial aid programs are available, they are difficult to access and often do not cover all the expenses associated with attending college. The primary program in California, Cal Grant, only covers tuition and fees — a small portion of the overall costs of attending college. The program does not help with housing, food, transportation, and instructional materials. Cal Grant has many components and requires a separate application from the Federal Pell Grants program — there is no comprehensive solution that students and families can rely on.

The students of the three public segments of higher education in the state, the California Community Colleges (CCC), the California State University (CSU), and the University of California (UC), hired Karen Zamarripa Consulting from 2020 to 2022 to help develop a coalition and manage strategic communications and advocacy efforts to pursue reforms that better serve students. Working closely with the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) and key partners such as UNITE-LA, the Campaign for College Opportunity, and Ed Trust-West, Fix Financial Aid (FFA), a 25-organization coalition, became the voice for reform in the State Capitol, local communities, and media/social media.

Former Assembly Member Jose Medina and former Senator Connie Leyva (who both chaired policy committees) and Assembly Member Kevin McCarty (who chaired the budget subcommittee for education) led the charge with legislation and budget requests. The FFA coalition made the case through direct advocacy in the State Capitol and district offices, newspaper reports, and social media. The Coalition was critical in ensuring members and the Governor understood why the current Cal Grant program would not help the state meet its education and workforce needs. It was also made clear that without more precise coordination between federal, state, and institutional financial aid programs, students and families have no clue what resources they have to cover college costs.

The three-year effort paid off when the 2021-22 state budget adopted reforms to the Cal Grant program.

The improved program is set to be implemented in 2024-25 when funds become available, and it will have the following features:

  • Applicants who receive a Federal Pell Grant will be automatically eligible for a Cal Grant.
  • The program will be streamlined, with one program for students at two-year colleges and another for those at four-year colleges.
  • Grants will consider the total cost of education, including housing, transportation, food, instructional fees, textbooks, tuition, and fees.
  • The program will expand access to college for working and adult students.
  • Segments will be urged to use their institutional aid to cover any unfunded costs of education for their students. Reporting on the use of these funds will be requested in future years.