Student Aid Expanding


With the passage of the Middle Class Scholarship Act in July 2013, the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships at UC Irvine now has several new factors to consider when creating award packages for the 2014-2015 academic year.
The Middle Class Scholarship, or Assembly Bill 94, was first introduced by Speaker of the Assembly John A. Pérez in 2012. The bill did not pass the first time around, despite several acts of lobbying and support displayed by students in higher education. However, on July 1, Governor Brown signed the bill into action on the same day that student loan interest rates doubled due to Congress’s failure to address the numerous obstacles in funding a college degree.
The Middle Class Scholarship provides new state funding to cover up to 40 percent of in-state system-wide fees for UC and California State University families with incomes up to $150,000.
At UC Irvine in particular, students whose families make up to $100,000 per year are eligible to have a maximum of 14 percent of their tuition and fees covered for the 2014-2015 year, according to the UC Office of the President (UCOP).
Students whose family income falls between $100,000 to $150,000 are eligible to have between 13.8 and 3.5 percent of their tuition and fees covered. The award amount is determined on a sliding scale, starting from 39 percent to 10 percent with a 0.6 percent reduction for every $1,000 of income.
These numbers mean that in 2014-2015, for families who make up to $100,000, the average award amount is $1,510 per student for the year. There are 1,437 of these awards available for UCI students.
The award amount decreases for families in the $100,000 to $150,000 range, but there are a greater amount of these smaller awards available.
While this act provides a new source of aid other than loans for students in the middle class bracket, this new initiative is not free from challenges and issues.
“I’m concerned about the group who in the past really hasn’t received any financial aid, other than loans, and so they may be turned off to the whole process,” Christopher Schultz, the director of financial aid and scholarships, said.
“I really want to encourage everyone to apply again if their family makes up to $150,000. They should complete the FAFSA again so they can at least be considered. Without applying by March 2, they won’t even be in the running and could leave money on the table.”
Another challenge of the act regards the timing of when students will receive their aid award.
“The way the program is structured is that this fills in after other types of financial aid, so after Pell Grants, Cal Grants and University Grants. So if somebody already gets a Cal Grant, then they’re going to have more than 40 percent of their fees covered, so this won’t be on top of it. If for some reason they received a smaller Cal Grant that didn’t go up to 40 percent, this would fill in the gap,” Schultz said.
“The problem with that is for us to know what students qualify for, we probably won’t be able to give them their MCS until late summer or early fall. It’s just kind of a head’s up that their award won’t be with their initial award letter.”
Another component of the Middle Class Scholarship is that it will be phased in over a period of four years.
The state appropriates a certain amount for the UC and CSU system to use each year.
For the 2014-2015 school year, $107 million is awarded and up to 14 percent of student fees will be covered for families making up to $100,000.
The percentage of fee coverage increases the next year, reaching 20 percent, followed by 30 percent during the third year and 40 percent during the fourth year (for students in the up to $100,000 range). This system allows the state to plan for these funds gradually.
While the UCI Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships acknowledges that this new program does have its challenges, they are happy to see this new demographic receive aid and look forward to seeing how the phasing-in process works.
“I am happy about the program in that there is finally something being targeted towards middle class students,” Shultz said.
“Although it’s very important for equity purposes to offer the aid programs we do for the lower income families because many of them wouldn’t be able to come here without it, I’m just glad that the state government has realized that some additional support is needed towards the middle income.”
To be considered for the Middle Class Scholarship, FAFSAs must be completed by March 2.