California higher education budget cuts are not just impacting low-income students anymore: middle-income students, too, are experiencing difficulty affording public institution fees. The growing number of budget cuts, along with increasing tuition, has instigated the University of California (UC) system, California State University (CSU) system and California Community Colleges (CCC) to search for ways to make higher public education more affordable for their students.
Based on a net price calculator provided by Harvard University’s financial aid website, a household of four making $130,000 a year would pay $17,000 annually, despite Harvard’s annual tuition of $39,851. Conversely, the same family would pay approximately $24,000 a year at a CSU.
However, UC spokesperson Donna Hemmila states that $17,000 is only a snapshot tuition for that one situation and a household’s savings, assets and businesses raise tuition. She said private schools, like Harvard, still have a much higher tuition than do UCs.
“It’s not that Harvard’s tuition is cheaper, it’s the cost of the student that’s lower because they’re able to offer the bigger financial aid packages,” Hemmila said. “Harvard is able to offer the financial aid because they have a huge endowment.”
Similarly, CSU spokesperson Mike Uhlenkamp said the hypothetical situation is like comparing apples to oranges.
“The reality is that within the vast majority of families at the CSU, that student doesn’t exist,” Uhlenkamp said. “I’m not saying it’s not possible, but it’s probably pretty rare.”
Uhlenkamp said those making around $130,000 a year are termed as middle class, explaining why that income number was probably chosen as an example.
As a private school, Harvard does not depend on the state for support.
“Harvard has an endowment of $32 billion and UC’s endowment since June 30, 2011 was about $10.6 billion,” Hemmila said.
Hemmila said another thing to consider is the number of students at each institution. The UC system has 235,000 students to support, whereas Harvard only has around 21,000 students.
“So they have three times as much money in their endowment and far, far fewer students to spread it among,” Hemmila said.
The UC has a Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan for students with a household income of up to $80,000. According to Hemmila, these students don’t pay system-wide fees or tuition.
“We realize that the middle-class families are really squeezed,” Hemmila said. “We’re looking at ways to help those families, so this past year, the families with incomes between $80,000 and $120,000 didn’t have to pay those increases for one year just to give them a little break.”
In addition, the UC system is trying to find ways to provide more scholarships to its students. An initiative project called Project You Can is a system-wide effort to raise $1 billion in student support over a period of four years.
“Our last private-giving report showed about less than 8 percent of private donations systemwide go to student support,” Hemmila said. “So we’re trying to increase that amount by getting more private donors and corporations to donate directly to student scholarships.”
According to Hemmila, most private donations tend to be given to fund research or fund department support. The UC system wants these donations to, instead, focus on scholarships.
Uhlenkamp said at the CSU, the financial aid covers the tuition for families making under $70,000.
“But that’s been the challenge: how can we take the money we have available, which is less and less every year, and be able to spread it through all those students?” Uhlenkamp said. “We have 437,000 students in the system and we’re talking about an under $70,000 package where that’s 180,000 students.”
According to Uhlenkamp, it’s becoming more difficult to effectively serve California students with budget cuts on the rise.
“The idea is that we are actively looking at the ways we can spread some of this money we have available in terms of financial aid to a greater percentage of students,” Uhlenkamp said.
Texas A&M University-San Antonio has begun a program that allows students to obtain a bachelor’s degree in information technology in three years for less than $10,000.
“We’re working with high schools and they’re offering dual credit courses where they start to achieve college credits in high school,” said Associate Vice President for University Communications Marilu Reyna. “In this program, they’d attend a college in the Alamo Colleges district, which is a community college, and then make a seamless transfer to A&M-San Antonio.”
Reyna said A&M-San Antonio and A&M-Commerce launched this program in light of higher education cuts.
“We’ve been asked by the A&M system to not raise tuition,” Reyna said. “We want A&M-San Antonio to stand out as very affordable and accessible.”
Hemmila said she thinks the program in Texas sounds like a great idea.
“Some of the things the UC has been looking at for the last couple of years is online courses to make hard-to-get core classes more accessible,” she said.
“That helps shorten the time for the degree, which of course, saves money for students.”
There has also been talk of looking into a three-year bachelor’s degree, but it’s still very preliminary, Hemmila said.
“Every time there’s a fee increase, a third of the increase goes into the financial aid program,” Hemmila said. “Sixty-two percent of undergraduates get some type of grant or scholarship and 40 percent of all systemwide student body receive Pell Grants, and those are the neediest students.”
Both Hemmila and Uhlenkamp said UC, CSU and CCC’s goals are to have the state reinvest in higher education and to receive more stable, adequate funding from the state.
“Overall, the mission is to be able to provide access and quality education to students we admit,” Uhlenkamp said. “And that becomes more and more challenging as the budget cuts keep happening.”
CLAIRE TAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.