We are calling on CSU Chancellor White, the Presidents of the 23 CSU campuses, and the CSU Budget Office to reverse a new policy that limits the amount of units a graduate student can take before they are no longer eligible for the State University Grant (SUG). This grant is awarded only to students who have the highest financial need (an EFC of $800 or less). The policy only allows graduate students to receive the SUG while completing the first 38 units of a Master’s program, or 30 units towards a credential. The intent was probably to mimic the Federal Pell Grant, which is limited by the semester (but not the unit!) so that if a student takes longer than average to graduate, they must do so without extra grant support. The problem is that many students do both a Master’s and a credential at the same time, no students were informed of this policy before this year (and therefore may have taken more classes than required, not knowing how much it would cost them later), and as written, the policy is confusing for students, advisors, and financial aid personnel.
While the policy applies to all graduate students, one group this will disproportionately affect is Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) students. Across the state SLP programs combine a Master’s and Credential, and require two years of coursework with no less than 75 units, including 400 hours of clinical experience. That means that during school, these students routinely take 15-20 semester units (whereas 9 units are considered full time for a graduate student) and cannot work, even part time, to help support themselves. These students go on to become a vital part of the healthcare and education system, providing services to children who stutter, teens with autism, veterans with traumatic brain injury, and cancer survivors with swallowing problems, to name just a few examples.
Even if SLP students are granted an exception and the cap is raised to 75 units, that still won’t cover graduate students who choose to go above and beyond, and who still graduate on time. At San Diego State University, for example, a Bilingual Certificate program for SLP students requires just 3 extra units, and provides much-needed training for serving this growing population. But students will not be able to complete the certificate unless they are willing to lose their SUG. It also won’t cover those students who have a bachelor’s degree in a different field (“with other background” or “WOB” students), and need an extra year and 30 units of prerequisite coursework. This program, far from being a place for people who are “behind” to “catch up”, is the most competitive in the department as far as admissions are concerned, and only the top 3% of applicants are accepted.
The CSU’s should not limit the potential of their highest achieving graduate students with the greatest financial need by putting a cap on the number of units they can take. This is not the right solution to the budget problems we face. Financially accessible education is as crucial to California today as it was just one short year ago, when the SUG was nearly taken away from all graduate students, and six months ago, when it was nearly taken away again. The students petitioned, and those decisions were reversed. The CSU should reward and support its best students, not put a limit on how much they can learn and achieve.