Late Monday evening, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed budget legislation that makes historic investments in public education. The 2021-22 state budget includes a $4.5 million renewal of UC Hastings Law’s California Scholars Program, a unique scholarship opportunity for students who graduated from a California high school and went on to attend a historically Black college or university (HBCU) or the American University of Armenia. The program provides each student with $65,000 in support per year, covering the $45,000 enrollment fee and a $20,000 stipend for living expenses.
“I was pleased to learn that my budget request for the California Scholars Program was approved,” said State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D–La Cañada Flintridge), who chairs the chamber’s Appropriations Committee. Portantino introduced the initiative in 2018 and shepherded its renewal in Sacramento. “This program has been remarkably successful in educating the leaders of tomorrow, as well as promoting and creating diversity. I am excited that the budget staff and Senate Leadership agreed to continue its funding.”
For the students who are currently studying at UC Hastings as California Scholars, the program has been life changing. “It’s like literally winning the lottery,” said Nikayla Johnson, a rising 3L in the Social Justice Lawyering concentration. “Coming from a single-parent home with limited resources, I am grateful that I could relieve myself and my family from the stress of having to worry about tuition.”
Black Californians are historically underrepresented in law; while 6 percent of the state’s population is Black, only 4 percent of its lawyers are Black. While other communities of color have seen some representational gains over the past three decades, the proportion of newly licensed Black lawyers has remained stagnant. A primary goal of the California Scholars Program is to attract Black Californians who attended an HBCU back to study, and eventually practice law, in the state. (There are no undergraduate HBCUs in California.)
The California Scholars Program is indicative of UC Hastings’ comprehensive commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The school offers numerous opportunities and wide-ranging support for students who are members of groups that have been historically marginalized in the legal profession. One of the oldest is the Legal Education Opportunity Program (LEOP), which celebrated its 50th anniversary in Fall 2019. And the newest is a “3+3” offered in partnership with Spelman College, which will enable students to earn a bachelor’s degree and a JD in six years instead of seven.
“Expanding access to education is at the core of who we are and what we care about,” said Chancellor & Dean David Faigman. “We are proud of our current California Scholars and delighted that more students will have the opportunity to participate in this unique program.” UC Hastings will welcome its third class of California Scholars in Fall 2021.