The school district's high-school seniors will likely benefit from the huge increases in Cal-Grant scholarships for higher education, but they may not be getting much of what they need, given the high cost of living in the county. The $1.2 billion that Governor Davis pledged to cover low-income students has an overall income ceiling of $64,100 for a family of four. The second tier scholarship for students with a "C" average, called Cal-Grant B, has an income ceiling of $33,700.
But the cost of living in San Mateo is higher than most other areas in the state. Those students in the county who need financial assistance to get into college may not qualify for it under the Cal-Grant system.
"Most of our teachers with students at high school age wouldn't qualify," said Tom Mohr, superintendent for the San Mateo Union High School District. "The threshold is too low. There are many people whose income is above $64,000. The husband and wife are working. But it is still extremely difficult to afford a college education, especially in this area where the cost of living is so dear."
On the face of it, the expansion of Cal-Grant scholarships seems like a good thing. Governor Davis pledged that all low and middle-income students with good grades would qualify for a total of nearly $10,000 per student in scholarships for a four-year degree.
This increases the spending dramatically from past years when the state would typically run out of funding for eligible students. Last year, the state cut off funds to students with grade point averages below 3.09 because of funding shortfalls.
Some students who do not get enough funding from the state piece together scholarships from other sources, such as the Rotary Club, parental employment grants, or private sector grants. Other students decide to go to community college because the cost of four-year universities is too expensive.
"Last year, a few [students] should have gone to a four year school, but they decided to go to a community college because it is a more reasonable way to go. Community college is a lot less expensive. They wanted to give their parents a break," said Laurie Tezak, scholarship and financial aid advisor at Aragon High School. Tezak said that other students decide to go to their second choice schools because of financial considerations.
The increase in Cal-Grant funding, which will be the largest state scholarship program in the nation, is designed to take financial issues out of students' considerations for higher education.
"I am pleased that the state is putting some more money in for lower income kids to defray their college costs," said Mark Avelar, associate superintendent for the district. "I think it would be nice if the state would put in more so that the kids meet these requirements. It needs to be a kind of dual effort. You need to put some money at the beginning of the pipeline and not just at the end."