Low-income students see little to no change in tuition costs, study finds

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A recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California found that many low-income students have seen little to no change in the price they pay for college, despite dramatic hikes in tuition at California’s public universities over the past 10 years.

Average tuition at a University of California campus rose from $8,057 to $13,208 from 2008 to 2011, but students with family incomes of less than $75,000 and eligible for federal financial aid still pay little to none of this cost, as grants have risen proportionately with the increases. Net costs of attending a UC campus, defined as tuition, room and board and other educational expenditures minus financial aid, have also stood still for low-income students.

“Given the need California has for college graduates in the future, there has been a lot of concern that the recent raises of tuition at the UC and CSU would restrict access to students who couldn’t afford to go,” said Jacob Jackson, author of the study. “We want to make sure policies are keeping with the cost of higher education.”

The UC Board of Regents is voting Wednesday on a tuition-fee increase policy that would link student tuition levels to the amount of state funding the university receives.

The study used data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which collects information on tuition and net costs for different income groups at universities across the nation.

Jackson said his study is missing students because the data only includes those who receive financial aid, while an estimated 20 percent of students with a family income of $48,000 to $75,000 — thus making them eligible for aid — fail to fill out the forms for the Free Application for Financial Student Aid. This may be due to the extensive and daunting nature of the form or the requirement of parents’ tax information, or it may be because families do not know of the form, according to Jackson.

ASUC Senator and Educational Opportunity Program student Austin Pritzkat said in an email that financial aid often does not accurately reflect the cost of living.

“When tuition increases, it puts a large stress on low-income families because we do not know how our financial aid awards will keep pace,” he said in an email. “Low-income students struggle as it is to afford a university education, so when tuition hikes increase the cost, it makes it harder for low-income students to stay in school.”

Sean MacNeil, chief of staff for State Assemblymember Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica — who also serves on the committee of higher education — said state Assembly members are taking fee increases seriously.

“Student fees and grant increases were a caucus priority,” MacNeil said. “It’s a major focal point with the new class of Assembly members.”

Contact Frances Fitzgerald at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @f_fitzgerald325.