Students from middle-class families arguably feel the impact of escalating tuition at California public universities most noticeably. While wealthier individuals can continue to afford the cost of their children’s education, and financial aid, for the most part, can support lower-income students, more and more middle-income families cannot afford the cost of a UC or CSU education.
The California State Senate failed to assist these students and their families this past weekend. Legislation known as the Middle Class Scholarship Act, authored and championed by state Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, stalled after the funding portion of the act did not garner the two-thirds majority vote necessary to pass. Had it passed, UC and CSU students with family incomes of less than $150,000 per year would have seen their fees slashed by 60 percent, effective this academic year.
The act would fund middle-class scholarships by requiring multistate businesses in California to calculate their taxes based on sales in the state, as opposed to choosing the more favorable of two tax methods. Because of this, opponents voiced concern that job creation would be stifled. That argument is flawed.
For one, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended in 2010 that the state use the formula based on sales. The office also found that allowing corporations to choose between two formulas for calculating tax rates arbitrarily favors some businesses more than others. Legislators should prioritize supporting the middle class and in-state business instead of a tax policy that favors out-of-state companies.
Gov. Jerry Brown quickly assured the public that tuition relief for the middle class is not dead yet and that it will be considered in the future. But by the time that happens, it could be too late for many families. Fees at both the UC and CSU may rise significantly if Brown’s Proposition 30 does not pass on Election Day. The proposition’s failure would deal a debilitating funding cut to both university systems and make it even more difficult for middle-class students to attend public universities in California.
At the campus level, UC Berkeley is already ahead of the game in providing aid to middle-income families. In December of last year, the campus announced its Middle Class Action Plan, which caps parent contribution toward undergraduate education at no more than 15 percent of family income for the middle class. That plan would be bolstered by passage of the state act.
However, Berkeley’s middle-class plan is jeopardized by the possibility of steep funding cuts hinging on the passage of Prop. 30, making aid at the statewide level all the more important. Still, campuses should do as much as they can to help middle-income families on their own.
Even if the UC avoids more cuts this year, the current socioeconomic makeup of the university warrants immediate attention. Middle-class students deserve access to public education in California — lawmakers must ensure they are not shut out.
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