Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Last year, the California legislature approved the Middle Class Scholarship (MCS) program, which provides stipends to undergraduates in UCs and CSUs with family incomes that are less than $150,000. Now in its first year of implementation, the program will impact thousands of students during the 2014-15 academic year; financial aid will vary based on family income.

As a long-time advocate for MCS, former California State Assembly Speaker John A. Perez said the law will help uplift Californians, “squeezed out of a higher education by the skyrocketing tuition rates,” in the state’s public universities.

The scholarship program will be gradually phased in over the next four years until the maximum amount is offered starting in 2017. The average UC tuition is currently around $12,000 and CSUs have an average tuition of around $5,500. A family earning less than $100,000 per year may be eligible to have up to 40 percent of their systemwide tuition and fees covered under the new program.

UCR Financial Aid Manager Jose Aguilar estimated that the scholarship will be awarded to about 2,100 undergraduate students at UC Riverside for a total amount of about $2.6 million for the current academic year. The UC admissions office reported that the maximum stipend awarded under the new program during the 2014-15 academic year was $1,707; CSU students received $768.

However, Aguilar emphasized that, “the scholarship will be offered to students who do not receive a Pell Grant, Cal Grant or an institutional grant,” as a way to support those who receive little to no financial assistance. More than half of all UCR students receive federal Pell Grants which are only offered to low-income students, and receive a form of financial aid through the UC’s Blue and Gold Opportunity plan, which assists those with annual family incomes of less than $80,000. This new scholarship would be aimed toward those who do not receive this aid.

To qualify for MCS, students must apply for financial aid by the March 2 deadline, hold an annual family income between $80,000 to $150,000, maintain at least a 2.0 GPA and be considered a California resident or have AB 540 status (which applies to undocumented students who are eligible to pay nonresident tuition).

Qualifying for the recent scholarship, ASUCR CHASS senator Jackie Jacoby expressed excitement about the MCS and its potential impacts on current and future Highlanders. “I support any source of financial aid that will allow students to continue their enrollment and success in our university,” said Jacoby. “I know countless students whose families make slightly more than the cutoff for sufficient financial aid so they may now have the opportunity to benefit and receive this aid.”

Some students though are not as thrilled, due to the fact that they will not have a chance to benefit from the scholarship program. Lilly Huerta, a fourth-year political science major expressed, “I’m happy that other students will be receiving more aid for their education, but as a fourth-year, I will be graduating with an unnecessarily high amount of loan debt. It would’ve been nice if the act was passed four years ago.”