Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara Superintendent of Schools

More than 40 years ago the state of California set a goal of providing access to higher education for low and middle income students. That goal became a reality with the passage of funding for Cal Grants. These are cash awards for college aid, and the application window is now open. 2015-16 Cal Grant applications are accepted through Monday, March 2, 2015.

For a great many students in our state there has sadly been very little incentive to do well in school. Many of these students come from low and middle-income families with no realistic capabilities of affording higher education. These students know from a young age that they will have to work to support themselves or contribute to the family as soon as they are able.

Though some of these students still summon the inner motivation to study hard and do well in school, many others are handicapped by this motivation barrier. It’s easy to see why the typical stresses and distractions of adolescents can loom larger for those who see no promise of any academic advancement in the future. The good news is Cal Grants are still making college dreams a reality.

Cal Grant A Entitlement awards can be used for tuition and fees at public and private colleges, as well as some private career colleges. At CSU and UC schools, this Cal Grant covers system wide fees up to $5,472 and $12,192 respectively.

Students attending any private nonprofit college or a for-profit college accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges receive up to $9,084 toward tuition and fees. For students attending most other career colleges, it pays up to $4,000. For 2015-16 new applicants, these funds are provided to high school graduates with a 3.0 (B) or higher grade point average whose maximum income ranges from $32,000 for recipients who are independent to $100,800 for students from a family of six or more.

Cal Grant B Entitlement awards provide low-income students with a living allowance and assistance with tuition and fees. Most first-year students receive an allowance of up to $1,473 for books and living expenses. After the freshman year, Cal Grant B also helps pay tuition and fees in the same amount as a Cal Grant A. For a Cal Grant B, your coursework must be for at least one academic year.

Cal Grant C awards help pay for tuition and training costs at occupational or career technical schools. This $547 award is for books, tools and equipment. An additional $2,462 may also be awarded for tuition at a school other than a California Community College. To qualify, students must enroll in a vocational program that is at least four months long at a California Community College, private college, or a career technical school. Funding is available for up to two years, depending on the length of the program.

Cal Grant B Competitive Awards are for students with a minimum 2.0 GPA who are from disadvantaged and low-income families. These awards can be used for tuition, fees, and access costs at qualifying schools whose programs are at least one year in length. A Cal Grant B Competitive Award can only be used for access costs in the first year, including living expenses, transportation, supplies, and books. Beginning with the second year, the Cal Grant B Competitive Award can be used to help pay tuition and fees at public or private four-year colleges or other qualifying schools.

It’s clear that the availability of these grants has had the potential to change lives. It provides students with the motivation to focus even harder on their studies. If students do their part and earn good grades, money may no longer be a barrier to higher education.

This has been a landmark accomplishment and it has spurred many students to work hard in school and fulfill their family’s dreams and their own potential.

With all these programs in place, the state has made a strong commitment to higher education and accessibility for students. We will all reap the benefits of an educated workforce and an educated consumer base that can attain the job skills to earn the money to afford the goods and services produced by our economy. Truly these grants are a win-win situation for all.

Information about the grants can also be found online at: www.csac.ca.gov and www.calgrants.org.