By: Linda Vasquez, Regional Affairs Director
The promise of higher education accessibility is deeply tied to the availability of financial aid programs for those with the highest need. That’s why federal aid that supports American students across the nation is so important. Unfortunately, in President Trump’s proposed budget, a critical program, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), is at risk of being eliminated.
There is endless amount of research that I could cite for you that demonstrate how a grant such as the FSEOG can serve as a critical tool to increasing college access, especially among underrepresented and underserved students, but the most powerful proof will come straight from a student who benefited from it.
I am one of six children and my parents, to this day, are a gardener and a homemaker. Growing up, my mother cleaned houses to supplement our family income, which fluctuated between $22,000-$27,000 every year. I remember this because when I filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as a senior in high school, it was the first time I had seen any income documentation from my parents, who shared it rather reluctantly I might add. When my FAFSA “results” came in, my Expected Family Contribution (EFC) was 0. If it could have gone into a negative contribution, I am sure it would have. I was a recipient of the Federal Pell Grant, the FSEOG, Cal Grant, and to my great surprise, federal work study.
The combination of federal and state grants allowed me to graduate from Cal State Fullerton with virtually no debt – save for a small loan I took out to study abroad. These funds were my saving grace. I estimate that I received nearly $25,000 in federal grant aid during my time at Cal State Fullerton.
There is a lot of discussion about preserving and expanding the Pell Grant during these uncertain times but an equally important program is the FSEOG, which is aid for undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. Recipients of the FSEOG are Pell eligible students that fall at the lowest end of the income spectrum. The FSEOG is referred to as “campus aid” because the award amount is determined by each campus and, unlike Pell, not all campuses participate. Students can receive between $100-$4,000, depending on financial need and the availability of funds at the university.
Over half of the 1.7 million FSEOG recipients in 2012-2013 were from public two year and four year colleges and universities. According to a report by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, 70% of dependent recipients came from families with an income of less than $30,000. The average award to students was $599.
When a student’s EFC is 0, the funds from the FSEOG have a significant impact on that student’s trajectory. The California State University system remains one of the most affordable higher education systems in the nation but let’s be honest, it is only affordable when you receive sufficient aid to cover the real cost of college. Textbooks, food, transportation, and housing are important and expensive costs alongside tuition. Because of a program like the FSEOG, I never worried about being able to afford a college textbook or pay the ridiculously high cost of a parking permit.
The real possibility that the FSEOG could be eliminated is alarming. College affordability remains one of the most important factors in accessing and completing college. We know that our nation is in dire need of a more college educated workforce, yet the Trump Administration threatens to cut the very support necessary to meet economic demands. If the FSEOG has made a significant impact on students like me, and not all campuses participate, we should be thinking of expanding it, not proposing elimination.
My story is not singular. I know I am not the lone example of how the FSEOG played a role in shaping my future. Our lives were made better because of visionary leaders at the national and state level who ensured the lowest-income Americans had a shot at college opportunity by making it affordable. If we still believe in the American Dream, we must preserve and expand financial aid.
Higher education will always remain the surest path to the middle class but our most underserved and underrepresented students cannot afford this opportunity if programs like the FSEOG end up on the chopping block. Bold leaders must stand up to protect these programs for low-income students so that every student, regardless of race or zip code, has access to attend and succeed in college. Our future depends on it.
 U.S. Department of Education, Federal Campus-Based Programs Data Book, 2014