State budget adds new middle-class scholarship, increases funding to UC

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California lawmakers voted to establish a middle-class scholarship program on Saturday that will slash tuition for middle-income students at UC and CSU schools by up to 40 percent.

Starting with the 2014-15 academic year, the new plan will reduce costs by about 10 to 40 percent for students with family incomes between $100,000 and $150,000. Last fall, a similar plan to fund middle-class scholarships failed to pass in the state Senate. The current program resembles last fall’s plan but provides less aid.

Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to approve the plan as part of next year’s state budget, which also proposes to scale up funding for the UC and CSU systems over the next four years ­— starting with a $250 million increase for the 2013-14 academic year to more than $1 billion by 2016-17.

California Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, wrote the current legislation as well as last fall’s failed bill. John Vigna, a spokesperson for Perez, said the middle-class scholarship will be a step toward restoring access to higher education following tuition increases and cuts to state funding in recent years. In the last five years, tuition at the university has nearly doubled.

“For far too long, Californians have been squeezed out of a higher education by the skyrocketing tuition rates at the CSU and UC systems,” Perez said in a press release Saturday. “(The increases forced) students to drop out of college or take on massive student debt that will negatively impact them for years, possibly decades, to come.”

Funding for the scholarship program will come from general fund revenues from Proposition 39, which closed a tax loophole for out-of-state corporations. The bill also increases funding for the plan each year until it is fully implemented in 2017-18.

The legislation follows the 2012 implementation of UC Berkeley’s Middle Class Access Plan, the first comprehensive financial aid program for middle-class families to be offered by a public university. In a press release announcing the plan in 2011, then-Chancellor Robert Birgeneau cited a lack of assistance for middle-income families struggling with college costs, despite programs that already support low-income families.

The Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, begun in 2009, waives tuition for UC students with California residency and families that earn less than $80,000.

The effects of the new state plan on UC Berkeley’s Middle Class Access Plan have yet to be determined, according to David Chai, deputy director of the campus department of government and community relations. UC Berkeley currently has no plans to abolish its program, which caps parent contribution toward undergraduate student education at 15 percent of family income.

“We’re committed to our plan,” Chai said. “And our commitment is going to continue to be one that focuses on assisting the middle class.”

Darius Kemp, a spokesperson for the University of California Student Association — which represents the students of the UC system — said that the new scholarship plan is not enough.

“It’s a good plan, but the UC needs more,” Kemp said. “Students need more. We need to be in a place where we’re consistently adding to funding.”

Contact Chris Yoder at [email protected].

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