State financial relief is in store for thousands of middle class students attending California’s public universities thanks to a new financial aid program aimed at families that earn an annual income of up to $150,000.
Launched in the 2014-2015 school year, the Middle Class Scholarship made many of its initial awards in September, when nearly 73,000 students were notified that they would receive some form of financial aid.
Some legislators were concerned that the initial $107 million appropriation would be insufficient to fund the projected 150,000 UC and CSU students expected to apply for the MCS. However, so far only half that number of students have applied and been deemed eligible to receive MCS.
The MCS is available through the California Student Aid Commission, the same agency through which students may file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, each year. The scholarship is another component of FAFSA. It does not require a separate application.
To qualify for the MCS, a student must be a California resident, be a permanent resident or have attained AB 540 student status, according to the CSAC website.
Students must also be attending a University of California or California State University school and must meet certain income and financial aid standards while maintaining satisfactory academic progress, including taking sufficient units and meeting GPA According to the Department of Institutional Research, Citrus College had 602 students transfer from the campus to a UC or CSU in the 2013-2014 school year, who may then find themselves eligible for the MCS.
Students from middle-class families might skip the FAFSA altogether, wrongly assuming that they are eligible only for loans, said Diana Fuentes-Michel, executive director of the Student Aid Commission. She said she expects more students will complete the form next year as word spreads about the scholarship.
In order to be eligible to receive financial aid, students must complete a FAFSA/California Dream Act application by the deadline, though CSAC advises that students apply as soon as possible to receive aid for winter 2015 or spring 2016.
Families with an annual income of more than $100,000 have the opportunity to receive up to 40 percent of mandatory statewide tuition and fees. Students with a family income between $100,001 and $150,000 are eligible for a reduced scholarship of no less than 10 percent of tuition and fees on a sliding scale.
The California Student Aid Commission has also determined that the amount of the scholarship will increase each academic year, with the maximum to be reached in the 2017-2018 school year. The average award this school year was $1,112 for UC and $627 for CSU.
While students may only receive 10 percent of their tuition and fees in their first year of applying, the award may increase to 40 percent by 2017-2018 and the commission will notify students of their award.
The award amounts are determined after a student is given any Federal Pell Grant, Cal Grant or institutional need-based grant for which he or she is eligible. The final award amount will be based on the number of students eligible for the MCS statewide and the funding allotted from the state budget.
This scholarship, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, is designed to lead the way toward college affordability. With several fee hikes over the past 10 years, tuition is up 190 percent for UC and 145 percent at CSU.
Many students who filed applications were disqualified because they receive need-based aid of more than 40 percent of their tuition, according to Patti Colston, spokesperson for the commission.
Faced with the underwhelming number of students who have applied, the California Student Aid Commission has extended the deadline to June 30 for students who have not yet filed their financial aid forms for the year.
“We’re trying to cast a wider net,” Colston said.
Though students may wait until the June 30 deadline, 11,000 additional awards are expected to be distributed for the winter 2015 and spring 2016 school terms. To check the status of a Cal Grant or FAFSA application, students may call the California Student Aid Commission help line at 1 (888) 224-7268.