Disbursal of new middle class scholarship delayed

Alvin Wu/Staff

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Disbursal of a new scholarship to California public university students from middle-class families will be delayed after the legislature made changes to the scholarship’s eligibility requirements last month.

The new Middle Class Scholarship, implemented for the first time this year, will assist students whose families make up to $150,000 per year with payment of mandatory fees and tuition. Now, UC and CSU students will not be notified of their awards until Sept. 15, with funds distributed at a later time.

“The intent of the legislation was to reduce the impact on middle-class families that have been hit the hardest as a result of the recession,” said Patti Colston, spokesperson for the California Student Aid Commission, which administers the scholarship. “It’s meant to provide some relief to middle-class families that, up to this point, have never been eligible for state financial aid.”

Language was changed last month in the budget trailer bill, or legislation that implements the budget bill, requiring the commission to take additional types of financial aid into account when determining scholarship eligibility and awards. In addition, a $90 minimum award per student was established.

“It was just to be clearer about their intent. (The legislature) didn’t want students who already had their fees covered to also get the Middle Class Scholarship,” said Rachelle Feldman, assistant vice chancellor and director of financial aid and scholarships.

Initially, eligible UC students could expect to receive an annual amount of up to $1,707 this year, although the commission has yet to determine the final awards. By 2017, the scholarship will pay up to 40 percent of tuition and fees for students from middle-class families. The scholarship will increase every year, as the legislature promised to nearly triple funding for the scholarship by fiscal year 2018.

According to Colston, the state’s department of finance estimated about 154,000 students would receive the scholarship before the eligibility requirements changed.

She added that the commission is waiting for enrollment data from CSU and UC campuses before the final amount per student is determined. The awards will be determined based on factors such as the family’s adjusted gross income and how much need-based aid the student is already receiving.

Kareem Aref, president of the University of California Student Association, said the delay will affect students’ ability to plan their finances and may be a problem for students who are no longer eligible, adding that the state needs to generally reinvest in higher education.

But Colston said that the scholarship is called a “tuition discount” by the commission and that it is additional funding on top of other financial aid.

“It’s a new program, so these students aren’t used to getting the scholarship,” Feldman said. “Fortunately, we have our own Middle Class Access Plan — their money from Berkeley will arrive on time.”

The campus’s access plan caps parent contribution to tuition at 15 percent for eligible students whose parents earn between $80,000 and $150,000 per year with typical assets.

“Students here have a lot more options than they do at different institutions,” Feldman said. “I feel pretty confident that we’ll be able to get students registered on time, even with this delay.”

Contact Angel Grace Jennings at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @angeljenningss.