A new middle class scholarship program in the state budget passed June 14 is an encouraging step by lawmakers toward funding higher education, though the program pales in comparison to a similar bill which failed in the state Senate last August.
The new program aims to reduce the cost of tuition by up to 40 percent for UC and CSU students with family incomes between $100,000 and $150,000 beginning with the 2014-15 school year — this is encouraging for the UC, which has seen rapidly rising tuition costs in the last few years due to lack of state funding.
The program is aimed at middle class families who make above typical financial aid guidelines but who still cannot afford high tuition costs.
The scholarship represents a marked increase in state support for higher education, due in part to Proposition 39, which gathers additional funds by closing a tax loophole for out-of-state corporations. It follows another increase in funding for the UC and CSU thanks to the passage of Prop. 30 last fall, which guarantees an additional $250 million each for UC and CSU in the upcoming school year.
Unlike past iterations of the budget, the passed version does not make the added funds contingent upon education based performance conditions. These conditions would have required individual schools to demonstrate that they were increasing affordability, decreasing average time for students’ to earn a degree, improving completion rates and increasing transfer rates. California lawmakers voted against these conditions when they passed the revised state budget earlier this month, which represents a recognition on their part that the legislature should limit its involvement in higher education’s operational matters.
Still, the new program provides far less aid than the bill that failed last August. The 2012 Middle Class Scholarship Act would have cut UC and CSU fees by 60 percent for middle-class students by closing a different set of tax loopholes.
That bill failed to pass at the last minute in the Senate after the lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement over proposed revisions to it. It is discouraging that the new plan is less robust than the old one, that it took almost a year for lawmakers to come up with an alternative way to support the middle class and that this program had to be added to the state budget rather than passing as an independent bill.
In the last election, Californians made it clear they are willing to have their taxes increased to support public education. Increasing state support should not stop with the middle class scholarship program, whether that support involves direct funding increases or a plan to alternatively fund public higher education given state and federal budget cuts.