California's economic future depends on an educated workforce, so it's no cause for celebration that the state budget crunch is forcing cuts in college tuition grants for needy students.
But at least the governor and Legislature are going about it in a way that wrings most of the savings from for-profit private schools with the worst graduation and loan repayment rates.
The spending plan headed to Gov. Jerry Brown cuts $103 million from the Cal Grant program by 2013-14 and tightens the eligibility rules for private colleges.
These sensible standards are long overdue. Preserving access to higher education for poorer students is important, but not at any price and not at any school.
The cost of Cal Grants has ballooned from $460 million for 147,000 awards in 2003 to $1.5 billion for 330,000 awards now. The maximum grant has been the same at all private schools, whether nonprofit or for-profit. And until recently, students could use Cal Grants at almost any school, no matter how abysmal its record at turning out successful graduates.
Under the changes, only colleges where at least 30 percent of students are graduating and where no more than 15.5 percent are defaulting on loans will be eligible to receive Cal Grants for new students. The new standards will disqualify about 4 in 5 for-profit private colleges, affecting more than 11,000 students at places such as Heald College, ITT Technical Institute and the University of Phoenix.
"If a lot of students don't succeed, we're not going to pay for students to go to school there anymore," Steve Boilard, the higher education director at the Legislative Analyst's Office, told The Sacramento Bee's Laurel Rosenhall. "You're not saying 'no' to students; you're saying 'no' to schools."
Also, starting next year, students at for-profit schools that do meet the new standards will have their maximum grant cut by more than half, to $4,000 a year.
Scholarship amounts will be reduced for students at qualifying nonprofit private colleges such as the University of the Pacific, but by far less, to a maximum of $8,056 in 2014. Less than 1 in 5 nonprofit private schools fall short of the new standards.
Thankfully, Cal Grants are protected for students at public campuses: the University of California, California State University and community colleges.
The state Student Aid Commission, which oversees the grants, is pleased about that, and that the Legislature rejected Brown's earlier proposal to raise the grade-point average required for students to qualify for the grants.
The changes rightly emphasize the eligibility of institutions instead of the eligibility of individual students, the commission's Ed Emerson told The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. And it enacts the commission's recommended tougher standards for for-profit schools.
If these schools did as well at educating students as they do pocketing government grants and loans, they might have more of an argument against the cuts.
The powers that be in Sacramento have finally recognized that taxpayers have no duty -- and in these times certainly can't afford -- to write blank checks to these colleges.
Editorials are the opinion of the Merced Sun-Star editorial board. Members of the editorial board include Publisher Eric Johnston, Managing Editor David W. Hill and Guest Editor Andy Krotik.