A report released last week by the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank, found that grants and scholarships have failed to keep up with rising costs of higher education.
The total cost of attending college increased as prices for books, fees, room, board and other living expenses rose. The study found that aid to students has not kept pace with these additional costs and that more low-income students may be unable to cover the price of higher education.
“If I didn’t have financial aid, I wouldn’t be at Berkeley — I don’t have money, my parents don’t have money,” said campus senior Shayla Esarey. “It’s integral to my ability to get an education. Without financial aid, I would have gone to a cheaper school or just not gone for a bachelor’s degree at all.”
The study showed that costs may disproportionately affect low-income students, who are often expected to contribute more than one-third of their income to pay for UC tuition and costs. This compares to a contribution of about 20 percent for high-income families.
Public universities in California educate 85 percent of the state’s low-income students, according to the report. In recent years, one-third of tuition increases at UC and CSU campuses have been redirected as grants for low- and middle-income students.
At the University of California, the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan aims to ease financial pressures on low- and middle-income families by using gift aid to ensure that these students are able to bear the cost of education. The program seeks to cover systemwide fees for individuals and families making less than $80,000 per year.
Former UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau lauded the program.
“I grew up in an ultra-low-income family, and financial aid is the reason I ended up having a chance,” Birgeneau, now a professor teaching materials science and engineering, said in an interview with The Daily Californian.
Under California state law, undocumented students who attend a California high school for at least three years and graduate are eligible to receive state aid money.
“Berkeley is doing everything we can to move the needle of inclusion forward, from the financial aid standpoint and also from the student support standpoint” said Meng So, director of UC Berkeley’s Undocumented Student Program.
According to So, undocumented students have an average family income of $24,000. These costs keep many undocumented students from attending college.
Adolfo Zapata, a campus senior who was born in Colombia and hopes to study immigration law, said while he has benefited from the program, he still finds himself struggling with financial security. He said the aid he receives is insufficient to cover additional costs such as food and housing.
“It was very stressful at the beginning of the semester,” he said. “I’m going to have to figure this out before my funds deplete completely. … This semester’s going to be rough.”
The report said many low-income high-school students are unaware of the availability of financial aid and therefore do not apply to four-year colleges.
The report recommends policies that assist students in completing the FAFSA and set a threshold for graduation rates and percentage of student loan defaults in order for schools to be eligible to receive state and federal aid.
“We need more doctors not less, we need more teachers not less, and so we’re missing out on a highly educated and talented pool of students, the future innovators,” So said.