Nearly halfway into the fall semester, students continue to face issues with state-allocated scholarships. The Middle Class Scholarship, or MCS, has received multiple complaints ranging from slow disbursement to students never receiving awards.
The scholarship is a California Student Aid Commission, or CSAC, program created in 2013 to provide aid to students who were not receiving tuition assistance through the Cal Grant or other need-based financial aid programs.
More than $12 million has been disbursed to more than 7,600 students on campus via the MCS as of Nov. 13, according to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff. However, the rollout of scholarship disbursement has been anything but smooth for students.
Taking to Reddit, students have brought multiple concerns of their MCS disbursements arriving after tuition deadlines.
For campus student Amy Johnson, her aid never arrived.
This year, Johnson was scheduled to receive $5,028, according to her initial FAFSA statement, but has yet to receive any award despite nearing the end of the fall semester.
According to Johnson, who is currently a fourth-year, receiving the Middle Class Scholarship was predicated on her status as a campus freshman, sophomore, junior or senior and spending four or fewer years on campus.
However, because Johnson had accumulated a large amount of course credits through Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests, she qualified as a “senior” during her third year and is now a “super senior,” making her ineligible for the MCS this year.
Losing this scholarship has real consequences for Johnson.
“As soon as that $5,000 was removed it was replaced in equal amounts of loans offered, which isn’t financial aid,” Johnson said. “So in reality, I’ve just been working more hours this semester.”
According to Shelveen Ratnam, a spokesperson for CSAC, the MCS was significantly overhauled in the last few years following increased funding from the California legislature.
“The new changes include a new awarding formula, which led to a significantly larger number of students receiving an award,” Ratnam said. “All of which led to significant operational changes for the commission, CSU campuses and UC campuses.”
These operational changes resulted in disbursement delays. In the 2022-23 academic year, CSAC reported many students received their fall-term awards between October and December, more than two months after the August tuition payment deadline.
These issues appear to have persisted into the 2023-24 school year.
Ratliff stated in an email that this year’s MCS disbursement started in October 2023, therefore many students did not receive their scholarships until after their fall tuition was due. He cited scholarship calculation errors and lack of communication from the CSAC.
“Our campus didn’t receive necessary information from CSAC in time to actualize awards earlier in the process” Ratliff said in the email. “In addition, in September, CSAC discovered a calculation error within the MCS formula related to Cal Grants, which delayed the finalization of MCS awards until October.”
Ratnam noted that while the CSAC has made improvements in the scope and amount of the Middle Class Scholarships available with the increased funding, not all students are seeing their basic needs met.
In addition to operational changes, this is largely due to the lack of state funding for the MCS program.
According to the CSAC’s 2023-24 budget memo, CSAC estimated last year that it would cost $2.6 billion to cover all student needs under the MCS disbursement formula. However, the state only approved $856 million in funding for this fiscal year.
“Both CSAC and UC Berkeley have worked diligently to improve our ability to award and disburse the scholarship, resulting in earlier awarding and disbursement of funds,” Ratliff said in the email. “We remain committed to continuing to refine our process and procedures to ensure that eligible students receive their funds and support they deserve.”