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California budget woes threaten Cal Grants

Victoria Ang was on a clear path to college, until Monday when her college counselor informed the Modesto high school senior that a piece of her financial aid pie could be eliminated to help state officials solve California's $24 billion budget hole.

Cal Grant is the state's largest financial aid program that helps students pay for college and vocational and technical training programs. Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed eliminating Cal Grants for new college students and reducing the amount continuing students receive to trim $250 million from the state's budget.

Ang is set to attend San Francisco State University this fall to study pre-medicine. She wants to be a dentist, and losing her Cal Grant would mean borrowing more in loans (she's already taking on nearly $8,000 in debt), redirecting to a community college or not going to college at all.

Cal Grants do not have to be repaid.

"It's ridiculous. Education is first and that's where everything begins. It's the last thing they should resort to, in my opinion," said Ang, 18. Students receive $1,500 to $9,700 a year from Cal Grants.

Schwarzenegger's cuts to Cal Grants would translate to more than 200,000 students statewide -- more than two-thirds of all current students offered Cal Grants -- losing all or part of the Cal Grant they were counting on to help pay for college this fall, according to The Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit research group that works to increase access to higher education.

Losing Cal Grants would be "devastating," said Beyer High college counselor Teresa Pitts. And community colleges don't have the room to absorb students who can't afford a four-year school without their Cal Grants.

State officials held education budget meetings Monday in Sacramento with students and educators protesting the cuts.

Pitts and other high school counselors are urging students, parents and community members to contact their legislative representatives with support for Cal Grants. Although some contend politicians would never pass the plan, the counselors said nothing is for sure.