Thirteen years ago, Rachel Baltazar graduated high school with every intention to go to college. But in those last years of high school, her mom was diagnosed with cancer while she faced domestic violence, herself.
Baltazar chose to go to community college so she could take care of her mother. But after her first year of school, her mom passed away. Rachel was left to support herself while dealing with the trauma from earlier in life. So, she left school.
A few years ago, she decided it was time to return to college.
“I was poor. I was very poor. And that's why I chose to come back to college so I could do better for myself," she said.
Now, as a community college student later in life, she said, "I have had to make the choice between food or books, medicine or student fees, or a roof over my head or going to class. These are not choices students should have to make.”
A California State Assembly budget subcommittee hearing on education finance heard testimony from students like Baltazar on Friday. The students spoke about Cal Grants, the largest state-funded financial aid program in California. In many cases, the testimonies pointed out that the grants are not enough to cover the cost of educational expenses. In other cases, the grants have various barriers that make students ineligible.
Baltazar ran into one of these roadblocks when she tried to go back to school as an adult. She applied and was accepted to Santa Clara University, her first choice during high school. She then realized she was too old to receive the Cal Grant.
As a result, her only realistic choice was to return to De Anza Community College. She works three jobs to support her education, and hopes to transfer to Santa Clara this year.
“If I had Cal Grants, I would not be sitting on $33,000 of student debt—even before transferring,” she said. "I would be at Santa Clara University, which was my first choice. I wouldn't have to put off my health for my education with the Cal Grants. Please make it possible for students to not make these choices—to not have to make sacrifices for their education by providing more financial support."
Emily Kinner is also a student at De Anza Community College and a leader for the student Senate for California Community Colleges, which represents 2.4 million students.
“My students are struggling, not just with fees, but also paying for safe housing, books, transportation and food to foster academic success," she said. "It’s been very difficult to find students to come [to the hearing today] and offer the praise that we’d like to give you for the support because so few of our students actually receive the Cal Grant."
You can watch the video here. Baltazar’s testimony begins at 1:51, while Kinner’s comments start at 2:03.