Education isn’t getting any cheaper, but the state government seems intent on keeping it that way.
In the midst of students repeatedly urging the state to allocate more money to universities to alleviate proposed tuition hikes, Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed ending the state’s Middle Class Scholarship program, so as to prepare for a possible budget deficit.
While Brown offered a one-time $146 million increase to University of California funding, the University’s decreasing accessibility over the last nine years means the state should be preserving financial aid programs, not gutting them. Brown needs to find alternative ways to cut costs by the time the budget is revised in May. Otherwise, he will have failed more than 70,000 middle-income students who rely on scholarship money to finance their educations.
The Middle Class Scholarship, which only began in 2014, awards up to 40 percent of tuition costs at a California public university to in-state students whose families make less than $156,000 per year. Brown’s proposal will stop issuing scholarships to new students next school year and end the program permanently by 2021.
Scholarships historically range from sums as small as $90 to more than $1,700. The relatively small awards – compared to $12,000 tuition – may seem negligible to Brown, who said cutting the scholarship will save the state about $116 million annually in the face of a possible $1.8 billion state deficit. However, these allotments are a significant relief to students who qualify.
The budget report does not provide any plans to help future middle-income students who will no longer have access to state financial aid. It merely writes off the scholarship as unnecessary without considering how the state’s sudden withdrawal will only leave a larger hole in students’ pockets and end any short-lived relief the scholarship offered.
This one-sided fiscal mindedness must change. It is a mistake to think university financial aid is negligible, and Brown needs to make good on his responsibility to students and their families. After all, other more expensive – and expansive – state measures, like the $68 billion high-speed rail project, have consumed millions of taxpayers’ dollars, but setbacks in those endeavors have not garnered Brown’s harping fiscal mindedness. As such, Brown needs to reconsider his proposal and find other, less essential areas of the budget to cut.
Of course, Brown said he chose to cut funding for the program because he anticipates a $2 billion deficit by the end of this fiscal year and plans to prioritize the Cal Grant program, which helps low-income students whose families make less than $80,000 per year. Although it is essential the Cal Grant program remains robust, completely cutting out middle-income scholarships is not the answer, and exchanging one form of support for another will not help anyone in the long run. Brown must reconsider this aspect of his budget proposal before finalizing it in May.
In phasing out the Middle Class Scholarship, he is putting the burden of the state’s budget on students. This trend, however, can no longer be tolerated.