As UC fees continue to rise, many students are finding it difficult to continue paying tuition.
Due to the fee increases in recent years, the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan was established. The program is a grant assistance plan that provides lower-income students with help in paying for the growing cost of UC tuition and fees.
“We have what we call an ‘access model,’ which is to say we believe that a student’s financial situation should not be the chief driver of whether they can come to the University of California,” said Nancy Coolridge, coordinator of government relations at the UC Office of the President (UCOP). “We’re a public institution and we want to admit all students who are as scholastically or academically qualified to attend, and we realize that those students may come from families that can’t afford to pay.”
UC has a “need-blind” admissions policy for California residents, she said. This means that once a student is admitted based on their academic abilities, the financial aid office then evaluates how much financial assistance they qualify for.
In order to qualify for the Blue and Gold Plan, a student must be a California resident, submit a Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) by March 2, be in their first four years as a UC undergraduate (or two years if they are a transfer student) and demonstrate financial need as determined for federal need-based programs, said Robert Davis, assistant director of the UC Davis financial aid office in an e-mail interview.
The variable of this equation is the income cap, which has been changing since the program was established for the 2009-10 academic year.
If the regents were forced to raise UC fees, a proposal would be made to the regents to change the Blue and Gold Plan income cap from $80,000 to $90,000. This would allow more low- and median-income students to receive aid, according to Coolridge.
The increase in tuition would also mean higher returns to financial aid. Every time tuition and fees are raised, a third of that money (regardless of the potential 32 percent fee increase) is used to create a pool of financial aid.
The state is threatening to withdraw more money from the university’s budget, and if this happens the regents would most likely be forced to raise tuition and make additional cuts.
“The possible fee increase in the future is all pivoting off of whether or not the state of California reduces its support for the university system,” Coolridge said.
The Blue and Gold Plan, which offers grant assistance to low-income students, was established as a way to lessen the impact of these fee increases, said Joyce Cleaver, a data analyst at UC Davis’ Financial Aid Office in an e-mail interview.
If, through FAFSA, a student is approved for financial aid, their grant assistance is provided through a variety of sources. These include federal, state and institutional or private funding, such as scholarships. Often, students receive a mixture, Coolridge said.
For 2009-10, the income cap for receiving financial aid through the Blue and Gold Plan was $60,000, Coolridge said.
During this year, 50,000 lower-income students received aid through the program.
For the 2010-11 academic year, the income cap was $70,000. At this level, an estimated 62,400 students will have received aid. Both the increase in the income ceiling and the overall downturn in the economy contributed to the higher number of UC students who qualified for the Blue and Gold Plan.
The estimates for the upcoming 2011-12 academic year show that approximately 67,100 California undergraduates will qualify for assistance though the program, when the family income ceiling will be raised to $80,000.
“It’s very hard to keep the university on an even keel when the financial stability isn’t there,” said UC President Mark Yudof in a press release. “We need to make long-term commitments to our students, our faculty, our staff. And we need to do all we can to keep our doors wide open to the students of California.”
UC also must work to keep its doors open to all qualified California students, including finding ways to extend financial aid to middle-income families if fees continue to rise, he said.
“We must send a clear message that tuition should not be a barrier to low- and middle-income families,” said Judy Sakaki, vice president for student affairs at UCOP in the press release.
TRISHA PERKINS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.