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Trip to State Capital Highlights Cal Grant Crisis

by Michelle Bonja '12

Administrative and faculty leaders from the School of Education and the School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences traveled to the state capital this spring to engage in a briefing on current issues affecting education in the California legislature.

The group of APU representatives attended a preliminary briefing at the Sacramento headquarters of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU), following a separate visit with Susan Bonilla ’82, an APU alumna and legislator representing California’s 11th Assembly District.

Among those from APU who attended were Karen Longman, Ph.D., professor and program director in the Department of Doctoral Higher Education, and seven doctoral students from her policy class.

“Given that our Ph.D. and Ed.D. students are working professionals who are employed by colleges and universities across North America, this excellent set of briefings with key people in the policy world helped to equip them to serve their institutions and constituencies more knowledgeably,” said Longman.

Also in attendance were Anita Henck, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education; Pamela Christian, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Doctoral Studies in Education; Nilsa Thorsos, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Special Education; and Teri Marcos, Ed.D., chair of the Department of Educational Leadership.

“I want us to expand our external connections as part of the vision we are articulating for the School of Education,” said Henck. “This trip was the first of many ways we will engage with decision-makers and those serving them on important matters relating to educational reform and funding in the state of California.”

During their visit, the group was slated for a half-hour discussion with Bonilla. In the end, the assemblywoman spent a full hour-and-a-half meeting with them.

“That is just so rare,” said Christian. “That never happens that someone will give you so much time. Bonilla cared to know what was going on at APU as an alumna. She functions in the political environment, but is still an ardent Christ-follower.”

One issue that received attention during the April trip was Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed cuts to the Cal Grant program.

Students at private universities like Azusa Pacific could face a 44 percent decrease in Cal Grant funding this fall if Brown’s proposal is approved. Of the 26,000 California students at nonprofit universities who count on Cal Grants to attend college, 20 percent of APU students rely on them as well, according to Ginny Dadaian, director of community relations.

“The proposed reduction would definitely hurt our students, and I believe a great deal would have to end their academic career here at APU if those cuts go through,” said Dadaian.

According to the AICCU, less than three percent of the state’s higher education budget goes toward funding Cal Grant students who attend independent schools. Furthermore, Dadaian noted that private colleges in California have the highest graduation rates in the state.

On the heels of the visit to Sacramento, the group’s leaders said one of the immediate goals is to create more awareness of contemporary public policy issues within the School of Education. Henck feels it’s important that students become aware of the extent of problems facing California’s education programs.

With educational issues hitting so close to home, APU faculty will be working to bring relevant conversations on policy-making to the forefront of classrooms.

“It was reassuring to meet so many competent people in Sacramento who are entrusted to help lead our state,” said Joe Slavens, director of student life at Simpson University in Redding and an APU doctoral student who was present during the trip. “It was especially encouraging to meet an APU alumna, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, and listen to her heart for education, students, and making a difference in the world.”