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California expands education program, giving $2,500 to workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic

McLaughlin wasted no time once she received her scholarship in June 2022. After taking part-time classes at American River College, a community college in Sacramento, beginning in October 2020, she decided to go full time to pursue her first degree. this fall and chose accounting as a major.

The $2,500 is used to pay for her textbooks, software required for school work and other supplies. Anything left over, she puts into a personal education account. Although she receives tuition waivers through a state financial aid program and extra dollars through a Cal grant, the Golden State grant gives her added confidence that she can afford an education while earning around $38,000 a year as an accountant for a fencing company.

“I spend my lunch break doing my homework,” she said. After returning from the office, she takes her associate degree courses online. McLaughlin’s younger son is a student at a virtual charter school, so the two do their homework side by side.

“I think it shows him how important an education is and to never give up because I’m here, 47, and in college,” she said.

Expand financial aid in California

On the face of it, Golden State’s Education and Training Grant Program, which will run through 2024 and is funded primarily by one-time federal stimulus funds, is another example of the state’s growing effort. to reduce the cost of college for adults and bring more Californians into college classrooms.

Over the past two years, public funding has increased nearly 50% for the California Student Aid Commission, which oversees most higher education grants to students. This growth, totaling nearly $3.6 billion, includes more tuition and cash support for community college students, middle-class students at the University of California and California State University, former foster students, students raising children, and Golden State training. grant, among others.

But the Golden State grant’s eligibility rules start where other state and federal grants fall off, extending cash aid to prospective students who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for traditional college financial aid.

The Golden State Grant can cover education programs that are less than about four months in length, which the Federal Pell and State Cal Grant do not. Students receiving the Golden State scholarship can also use the money for extension programs and so-called non-credit programs, such as ESL classes, bicycle repair, and various landscaping certificates. There is no minimum program length for this grant – and since state dollars cover a portion of the grant costs, undocumented students are also eligible for the $2,500. Anyone receiving the grant just needs to already know what training program they plan to take.

spread the word

To ensure that displaced workers with no college ties also apply, the Student Aid Commission is working with regional workforce councils, the California Workforce Development Board and other agencies to publicize the grant, a said Jake Brymner, director of government relations for the Student Aid Commission.

Grant recipients can also use the funds if they enroll in certain workforce training and apprenticeship programs not affiliated with colleges or universities. The Student Aid Commission is currently reviewing eligible workforce training programs and will soon add them to the approved list on the grant application. Students will only be able to use their grants at California public colleges, universities, and those approved workforce training programs.

During the pilot, when only public colleges and universities were eligible, 84% of scholarship applicants sought training at community colleges, according to data from the Student Aid Commission.

“This specific grant has great potential,” said Daisy Gonzales, acting chancellor of California Community Colleges. “What it does is it provides an entry point to our colleges for students who may not know us.” Students who are not exposed to community colleges may have access to pantries and coordinators who know about other local and state social services that students may qualify for.

She also hopes the grant can help recoup some of the colossal loss of enrollment the system has suffered over the past two years.

The grant can be combined with other student aid

Even though grant recipients are entitled to free tuition, especially at community colleges where nearly half of learners attend for free, they can use the money to cover gas, housing, food, and d ‘other expenses. This is an added benefit for learners who don’t have spare money to afford an internet connection or other expenses associated with earning a degree.

Muideen Olawoyin was one class away from earning an associate’s degree in social services, a stepping stone to social work. But a string of bad breaks and a long-term injury left him strapped for money.

“I [couldn’t] even affording the internet back then was so difficult,” he said. When he picked up the Golden State check from his school, Cosumnes River College, he was able to get back online, enroll in that final course, and graduate this summer.

The average income of the roughly 3,000 scholarship recipients was about $22,000 when they first applied, according to California Student Aid Commission data provided to CalMatters.

Some degrees do not increase salaries

However, not all training and education programs are created equal. Some research shows that shorter-term college certificates—like the type students with this scholarship can enroll in—have a mixed track record for increasing graduates’ earning power.

Overall, these certificates lead to higher salaries, but the non-credit programs pay less than traditional credit certificates. Yet associate’s and bachelor’s degrees lead to even higher salary gains for graduates, according to a 2020 Urban Institute study. Meanwhile, one-fifth of certificate programs at public colleges and universities lead lower wages than those earned by workers with a high school diploma, a Hechinger Report analysis of national data showed.

California’s foray into short-term degree funding could inform the national conversation about whether to allow federal grants to pay for study under four months. Proponents have been trying to introduce “short-term” Pell grants for a few years, but the idea has yet to convince enough lawmakers.

None of the four Golden State training scholarship recipients CalMatters spoke to were pursuing short-term degrees — all wanted an associate’s degree. McLaughlin dreams bigger.

Her goal is to transfer to Sacramento State to earn a bachelor’s degree, which her current employer encouraged her to pursue.

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