Yudof Pushes Free Tuition

Despite the lack of overall state funding for the University of California and the consequential system-wide reduction of 2,300 incoming freshman spots, UC President Mark G. Yudof proposed an additional $3.1 million to fully subsidize four years of fees and tuitions costs for nearly 1,100 of 48,100 eligible students facing financial difficulties.
On Jan. 22, Yudof proposed the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan to provide a minimum level of help for families who earn less than $60,000 a year. The majority of eligible students already have their tuition covered by various forms of grants and aid, but the 1,100 who would be covered by the plan are the ones whose grants stretch too thin across the board.
With UC undergraduate tuition already peaking at $7,126, Yudof and UC spokesman Ricardo Vázquez both emphasize that there is no better time to propose a clearer financial aid message and encourage low-income students to apply to the UC, especially considering the financial hardships that people are suffering.
“Despite the fact that we have a very robust financial aid program which involves many students from low-income families, there’s still a perception that our fee costs are not within the reach of these families. This program would ensure that these families have a better understanding of the kind of financial aid that is available,” Vázquez said.
Currently, 33 percent of UC tuition revenue is set aside for financial aid, and Yudof’s proposal would require an increase to 36 percent. Vázquez stressed that the increase would not reduce funding for any existing UC aid programs.
“We want to send an intelligible message to students and their families and their guidance counselors that this is possible for you,” Yudof said.
Unfortunately, criteria for attaining such grants can be complicated; a prospective student could have trouble qualifying for the grant if his or her family has assets over an allowable limit but not much income.
Around half of UC students who belong to families that make between $60,000 and $100,000 also receive grants; such students receive an average of around $5,800 per year and would not be affected by the proposed program.
In addition to enrolling more low-income students than any other top research university, the UC system provides grant and scholarship assistance to 54 percent of its 173,000 undergraduates.
Yudof acknowledged that many “private [colleges] are trying things like this,” but he insisted that he was not attempting to vie for top-tier students with such top universities, such as Stanford University, that are enacting similar programs. In February of 2008, Stanford announced that it would no longer charge tuition to students whose families earn less than $100,000 a year.
“[However] the UC is currently over-enrolled by more than 11,000 students,” Vazquez said.
The UC did not receive state funding for enrollment growth in last year’s 2008-09 state budget and there is currently no proposed funding for next year’s budget. For the 2009-10 school year, 550 of 4,409 freshmen applicants will not be accepted into the UC. With the admission process currently underway, campuses have simply recalculated their target enrollment numbers.
“The regents and the president felt they needed to do this in order to protect the quality of the instructional program we offer,” Vázquez said.
Yet, the UC will be expanding to accommodate 500 more transfer students. Vázquez attributes this decision to a greater increase in applications from community college students. Vázquez went on to explain Yudof’s reasoning for his decision.
“Given the kind of economic downturn we’re experiencing, [Yudof] wanted to keep the door open for this particular route to the university, because it is a very cost-effective path for many students,” Vázquez said.
UC Irvine alone is accepting 550 fewer freshmen students and 50 more transfer students, stated Cathy Lawhon, director of media relations at UCI.
“Our hit on freshmen is the largest in the system. The reason is that in fall of 2008, UCI had the highest number of unfunded enrollment,” Lawhon said.
According to Lawhon overall about 1,400 students ended up not being funded under the state budget.
The Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan is undergoing final consultation and its fate will be decided at the regent meeting, which will take place from Feb. 3 to Feb. 5. The regents will also be taking a closer look at fees and the possibility of another tuition increase in the upcoming months.