Grit and determination have always described former foster youth Elizabeth Clews.
After leaving the college classroom to care for her newborn child and work full time, she remained determined to pursue her dream of a college degree. However, when she attempted to re-enroll, she found herself ineligible for financial aid because she did not meet her school’s Satisfactory Academic Progress requirements – a remnant of her first attempt at higher education.
According to Elizabeth, “When I tried to enroll in classes, I got the same message I had received two years prior, saying I could enroll for classes, but they weren’t going to give me any financial aid,” she said.
Elizabeth is not alone. Low-income youth across the state find themselves “locked out” of financial aid after a difficult start often caused by juggling the responsibilities that come with living on the margins.
On October 8th, that all changed thanks to the advocacy of John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY).
Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 789, which removes barriers to financial aid by requiring public colleges and universities in California to adopt federal standards for Satisfactory Academic Progress. It also expands the appeals process when students are denied financial aid. AB 789 will give low-income youth like Elizabeth the chance to succeed without worrying about how they will pay for school.
Fortunately, Elizabeth didn’t give up. “I was determined to be successful. I had to attend school for two years while paying tuition and fees out-of-pocket, and eventually, I was able to transfer.” Her determination paid off. Elizabeth now attends the University of California, Santa Cruz.
For youth like Elizabeth, this new law means not having to pay these out-of-pocket costs due to a lack of financial aid after an understandably rocky start. It means not having to make the choice between paying for rent or paying for tuition.
JBAY celebrates this new law and remains a proud supporter of low-income youth who aspire to obtain a college degree. JBAY advocated for AB 789 together with the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman, and a team of college affordability advocates. JBAY made sure that the voices of low-income students like Elizabeth were heard in California’s halls of power as the bill made its way to the governor’s desk.
Amy Lemley, Executive Director at JBAY, sees this as a victory not just as a financial aid reform, but also as a critical tool to prevent homelessness.
“California’s homelessness crisis sadly includes 400,000 college students. With this critical reform adopted, we can bring this figure down significantly. We are moving upstream to prevent homelessness.”
Learn more about Elizabeth’s path to higher education in a recent CalMatters article.