UC and CSU students whose annual family earnings total less than $150,000 may soon be eligible to receive state aid, cutting their tuition costs by nearly two-thirds. The proposal, dubbed the Middle Class Scholarship Act (AB-1500 and AB1501), was announced by California State Assembly Speaker John Perez on Feb. 8, and will provide nearly $1 billion in state funds to aid students.
If passed, the Middle Class Scholarship Act will save qualifying UC students nearly $8,200 per year in tuition fees, and CSU students nearly $4,000 annually. Forty-two thousand UC students and 150,000 CSU students would qualify for aid provided by the proposal. Students who already receive other forms of financial aid would still be eligible for the plan. Another $150 million in aid will be set aside for California’s community college students, according to the proposal.
Perez spoke about the plan to students at UC Davis last week.
“For students whose families make $150,000 or less, too much to qualify for our current financial aid system but not enough to write a check for the cost of education without feeling that pinch, the Middle Class Scholarship Act reduces fees at the UC system and CSU system by two-thirds, giving tremendous assistance to those families to make college affordable again,” Perez said.
UC tuition has increased nearly 150 percent since 2003-2004 and is expected to climb another 16 percent over the next four years. This increase will raise the cost of UC tuition fees, excluding room and board, to $22,000 for the 2015-16 academic year.
“Like Assembly Speaker Perez, we are deeply concerned about ensuring affordability for middle-class students who don’t qualify for financial aid,” said UC President Mark Yudof in a statement issued in response to Perez’s proposal. “As we work with the governor and legislators on fiscal and policy issues that would affect the affordability of a UC education, we welcome constructive efforts such as the speaker’s proposal to provide middle-class tuition relief.”
Funding for the Middle Class Scholarship Act will come from the discontinuation of tax cutbacks some large corporations began to receive in 2009.
“We will fund the Middle Class Scholarship Act by closing a loophole that only benefits large, out-of-state corporations,” Perez said.
The proposal will need a two-thirds’ majority vote in the legislature to be passed.
“To make this happen, we are going to need Republicans and Democrats, especially those Democrats that might be on the fence, ” said Claudia Magaña, University of California Student Association (UCSA) president and UC Santa Cruz student. “We need to make it clear to those who are not behind us that a vote against this plan is a vote to basically not support middle-class families.”
Though Magaña acknowledged in the past Republicans have been anti- tax, she remains hopeful they will provide needed support for the bill.
“Though this is closing a tax loophole for certain companies, I think that there is a possibility for some Republicans being inclined to support the proposal because they do represent a lot of the middle-class families that this will directly benefit,” Magaña said.
Student action will also be important in organizing and voicing support for the Middle Class Scholarship as it enters the legislature.
“We are very optimistic about its passage in the legislature, but we are going to have to work hard and we are definitely going to request that all students work hard to make sure it gets passed,” said Darius Kemp, UCSA communications and organization director.
The UCSA student lobby conference, which will take place March 3-4 in Sacramento, will provide an opportunity for students to voice their support for the act in a formal political setting.
“Every UC will be present and talks will be set up with legislatures in their region and the assembly that day,” Magaña said. “The really important part will be getting the attention of the state legislature and showing them the students are behind it.”
Assembly Speaker Perez noted the importance of students posting personal testimony of challenges they may have had in paying for college on the blog middleclassscholarship.com.
“I believe those stories will be extremely valuable in helping us get the vote we need in the legislature to pass the the Middle Class Scholarship Act,” Perez said.