Who is Getting Financial Aid at UC Irvine?

A recent opinion piece in the New U. pondered the question, “Who’s Getting Financial Aid?” The author cited two studies including the recently published “Opportunity Adrift” from the Educational Trust. Although UC Irvine is not mentioned in these reports, as the financial aid director I feel compelled to respond to several of the conclusions drawn that are not true for UCI.

Although the study concludes that public universities have shifted their aid priorities from need-based aid to merit-based financial aid, this is not the case for UCI. In the 2009-10 year, for example, nearly 40 percent of our undergraduate students received need-based university grant support. 50 percent of this support went to families with income less than $50,000 and 92 percent to families with incomes less than $100,000. In comparison, six percent of undergraduates received merit-based support, and of this group more than 50 percent went to students with family income less than $50,000 and 67 percent to students with family income less than $100,000.

The university’s commitment to affordability has recently been demonstrated by the advent of the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan. For the 2010-11 year, this plan commits to covering system-wide fees for needy undergraduates whose families earn less than $70,000. Additionally, the university will cover one-half of the fee increase for needy undergraduates whose families earn between $70,000 and $120,000.

The writer also concluded that “[t]he study finds that universities have changed their financial aid priorities in order to attract much wealthier (and whiter) students who will reflect better on the school.” This is again not true for UCI. Our financial aid programs are 100 percent race-neutral and strive towards providing accessibility to all students. Our university grant program is based on the Educational Financing Model (EFM). Under the EFM one-third of fees charged are set aside for need-based grant support. By policy, these funds may only be used for needy students and cannot be used exclusively for merit-based scholarships. Again, 50 percent of these grants went to families earning less than $50,000 per year and 92 percent earning less than $100,000.

I empathize with the writer lamenting that the debt he is incurring is growing. We all would prefer that students graduate debt-free, but the reality of shrinking state support and the resulting higher fees makes this impossible. I’d like to clarify that, contrary to the writer’s point that his borrowing is unreasonable in comparison to his family’s income, I think one must also consider borrowing in comparison to the student’s future earnings. The most recent figures we have show the average loan indebtedness for graduating UCI undergraduates to be a little over $14,000. One could argue that although not preferred, this level of debt may not be unreasonable. Take, for example, the average new car price of $28,000 and the number of cars an individual may own in her lifetime. Is a one-time investment of $14,000 too much to invest in oneself, but reasonable for a car?

We consider ourselves in a partnership with students and families in respect to paying expenses. For their part, students and families are expected to contribute towards the cost of education through earnings from work, savings and a manageable level of borrowing. Our university grant program combined with Federal and State grants is meant to keep the amount of loan and work at a level that is reasonable in relation to the family’s income and the student’s future earnings. So far this partnership has been successful at providing university access for low-income students from a diverse background. Key to continuing this success is the ongoing support from these essential grant programs and for the restoration of funding to the UC.

Christopher Shultz is the Acting Director of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships. He can be reached at cshultz@uci.edu.
A recent opinion piece in the New U. pondered the question, “Who’s Getting Financial Aid?” The author cited two studies including the recently published “Opportunity Adrift” from the Educational Trust. Although UC Irvine is not mentioned in these reports, as the financial aid director I feel compelled to respond to several of the conclusions drawn that are not true for UCI.

Although the study concludes that public universities have shifted their aid priorities from need-based aid to merit-based financial aid, this is not the case for UCI. In the 2009-10 year, for example, nearly 40 percent of our undergraduate students received need-based university grant support. 50 percent of this support went to families with income less than $50,000 and 92 percent to families with incomes less than $100,000. In comparison, six percent of undergraduates received merit-based support, and of this group more than 50 percent went to students with family income less than $50,000 and 67 percent to students with family income less than $100,000.

The university’s commitment to affordability has recently been demonstrated by the advent of the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan. For the 2010-11 year, this plan commits to covering system-wide fees for needy undergraduates whose families earn less than $70,000. Additionally, the university will cover one-half of the fee increase for needy undergraduates whose families earn between $70,000 and $120,000.

The writer also concluded that “[t]he study finds that universities have changed their financial aid priorities in order to attract much wealthier (and whiter) students who will reflect better on the school.” This is again not true for UCI. Our financial aid programs are 100 percent race-neutral and strive towards providing accessibility to all students. Our university grant program is based on the Educational Financing Model (EFM). Under the EFM one-third of fees charged are set aside for need-based grant support. By policy, these funds may only be used for needy students and cannot be used exclusively for merit-based scholarships. Again, 50 percent of these grants went to families earning less than $50,000 per year and 92 percent earning less than $100,000.

I empathize with the writer lamenting that the debt he is incurring is growing. We all would prefer that students graduate debt-free, but the reality of shrinking state support and the resulting higher fees makes this impossible. I’d like to clarify that, contrary to the writer’s point that his borrowing is unreasonable in comparison to his family’s income, I think one must also consider borrowing in comparison to the student’s future earnings. The most recent figures we have show the average loan indebtedness for graduating UCI undergraduates to be a little over $14,000. One could argue that although not preferred, this level of debt may not be unreasonable. Take, for example, the average new car price of $28,000 and the number of cars an individual may own in her lifetime. Is a one-time investment of $14,000 too much to invest in oneself, but reasonable for a car?

We consider ourselves in a partnership with students and families in respect to paying expenses. For their part, students and families are expected to contribute towards the cost of education through earnings from work, savings and a manageable level of borrowing. Our university grant program combined with Federal and State grants is meant to keep the amount of loan and work at a level that is reasonable in relation to the family’s income and the student’s future earnings. So far this partnership has been successful at providing university access for low-income students from a diverse background. Key to continuing this success is the ongoing support from these essential grant programs and for the restoration of funding to the UC.

Christopher Shultz is the Acting Director of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships. He can be reached at cshultz@uci.edu.