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Middle-class families could see tuition and fees cut by two-thirds

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FEBRUARY 08, 2012

University of California students from middle-class families could save over $8,000 a year on tuition under a new plan announced Wednesday by state Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles.

Perez’s Middle Class Scholarship Plan would cost the state about $1 billion per year and would be financed by the elimination of a tax loophole benefiting out-of-state corporations. The plan would slash tuition and fees for students whose families make less than $150,000 a year by two-thirds, according to Perez’s website for the plan.

The plan would also impact middle-class students at the California State University and California Community Colleges. In a video on the website, Perez said middle-class CSU students could potentially save $4,000 a year on tuition.

“With the collapse of our economy, we’ve made our colleges and universities more expensive and less accessible,” he said in the video. “The Middle Class Scholarship Act intends to turn that around.”

Although the act has not yet been presented to the state assembly, UC Student Association  communications and organizing director Darius Kemp said he was confident the plan could make a difference in thousands of students’ lives.

Kemp said that the association partnered with the Student Senate for California Community Colleges and the California State Student Association to formulate a plan with Perez that would be a “net gain for all students.”

“At the end of the day, this plan will help to fill the gap for those students that are left out of funding plans for higher education,” he said.

Forty-two thousand UC students would be eligible for the plan, according to the website.

The price of tuition at UC has quadrupled in the last 10 years, as state funding for the university has steadily declined. In 2011 alone, the state cut UC funding by almost $1 billion.

UC President Mark Yudof said in a statement that he was receptive to the plan’s ideas.

“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,” he said in the statement.

The plan could also serve to enhance UC Berkeley’s Middle Class Action Plan, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. The campus’ plan, announced in December, caps parent contribution toward undergraduate student education at no more than 15 percent of middle-class families’ income.

“We fully support the Speaker’s goal of making college more affordable for middle income families,” she said in an email. “The proposal could allow UC Berkeley to expand our own middle class access plan to serve even more students.”

But the plan could hit a Republican roadblock if introduced to the legislature. William Bird, a spokesperson for state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said he could not comment on the feasibility of the plan passing should it become a bill.

However, Huff said in a statement that Democrats were to blame for the massive cuts to higher education that prompted tuition increases.

“It seems to me that this is similar to an arsonist that sets fires and then joins the volunteer fire department,” he said in the statement. “Let’s first enact the Governor’s pension reforms and balance the state budget, then we can better assess the need for changes in tax policy and higher education.”

Damian Ortellado is the lead higher education reporter.

FEBRUARY 09, 2012