Not Just Free Money

USD students Michael Mireles and Mya Keaton


All you really need to know about advocacy you learned in kindergarten: Play fair. Respect each other. Say “please” and “thank you.”

Those themes resonated in the halls of the State Capitol in early March when USD undergraduates Michael Mireles and Mya Keaton (pictured) joined a multitude of other students from independent colleges and universities throughout California to knock on doors and visit with officials. The purpose? To express their gratitude to legislators and legislative staff members for the Cal Grant awards they receive, and to advocate for the program’s continued funding.

Mireles is known across campus for both his enthusiastic personality and his spiked Mohawk hairstyle. The latter attracted numerous questions, compliments and comments in Sacramento; even Senator Dave Cox ‘66 joked with him about his hair, as well as praising the pair for their advocacy work for Cal Grants. Students delivered a strong, personal message about the difference that Cal Grants have made in their education.

“My experience in supporting the Cal Grant goes deeper than free money,” says Mireles. “It’s my gateway to a better future. Without it, I would never have been able to attain the education I am pursuing (at USD).”

Cal Grants are awards made through the California Student Aid Commission to eligible students from low- and middle-income families so they can attend college. There are two primary Cal Grant programs: one for undergraduate students attending a California State University or University of California campus who can qualify (up to $3,354 and $7,788 respectively) to cover full system-wide fees; and another for those attending private and non-profit colleges and universities such as USD, who are eligible to receive up to $9,708 toward the cost of tuition. The Cal Grant entitlement awards are guaranteed for four years of college, while competitive Cal Grant awards are year-to-year and not guaranteed.

Officials were also presented with certificates of appreciation listing the total number of Cal Grant recipients in each Assembly or Senate district.

Last year, Governor Schwarzenegger proposed eliminating Cal Grants altogether. The state legislature disagreed and looked elsewhere to try and balance the budget.

This year, the governor has proposed completely eliminating the competitive Cal Grants, which would impact 37,726 students at all public and private colleges statewide.  The final state budget, and the fate of Cal Grants, will likely not be resolved until later this summer.

“It was my pleasure to fight for the Cal Grant,” says Mireles. “I pray that it continues to be funded for future generations.” — Tom Cleary

Pictured: USD students Michael Mireles and Mya Keaton

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