Students from the University of California will gather at their respective campuses at noon today to voice support for a constitutional amendment designed to secure continued funding of the Cal Grant program.

According to a press release, members of the UC Student Association are currently attempting to persuade California State Senators Duchney and Pavley to author an amendment to prevent Governor Schwarzenegger — who has already proposed cutting nearly $88 million from the Cal Grant program — from phasing out the award completely. The Cal Grant program is currently a discretionary budget item, but the passage of an amendment to the California Constitution would ensure its funding by the state for future generations.

Associated Students External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Celina Ayala said the UCSA is mobilizing on a statewide level to save the Cal Grant. At UCSB, Ayala said, her office will hold a press conference and rally on the topic in Storke Plaza at noon today.

The gathering, she said, will feature testimonials from three students who will argue that the Cal Grant program is critical to the state’s higher education systems and therefore worthy of constitutional mandate to protect its inclusion within the California state budget.

“The governor has control to either keep it as it is or take it out altogether and use the money elsewhere,” Ayala said. “It’s really important for the Cal Grant to be mandated because it does help so many students and is the only way that many of them can afford higher education.”

Mike Miller, acting director of the Financial Aid Office, said the Cal Grant program — which was implemented in 1954 — benefited over 5,000 students during the 2008-09 year on the UCSB campus alone.

This idea for constitutional mandate, Miller said, is a step in the right direction to protect the hundreds of thousands of California students who benefit or could benefit from Cal Grants.

“First of all, I think it’s great that the people of California are stepping up and saying that this is a thing that should be around long-term,” Miller said. “With the current economic crisis, a lot of cuts are going to be mandatory, but I think we need to be careful of what we cut, and I think that funding the education of our young people is not the place where we want to make those cuts.”

Gary Toumas, a first-year pre-biology major and intern for the External Office of Statewide Affairs, will be Master of Ceremonies at today’s rally. As a personal recipient of a Cal Grant, Toumas said he adamantly supports the program that allows him to attend a university.

“I think that it’s very important for everyone to get involved because this is important for everyone,” Toumas said. “Financial troubles shouldn’t get in the way of people who want to learn and their access to higher education.”