As the legislature considers a number of bills aimed at increasing access and affordability of public higher education, the state assembly’s subcommittee on education finance invited PPIC to testify this week. The focus was the unmet financial aid needs of low-income college students. Hans Johnson, PPIC senior and Bren Fellow, presented data from the recent PPIC report Making College Possible for Low-Income Students: Grant and Scholarship Aid in California, which details the importance of federal and state grant aid in ensuring that higher education remains a ladder of economic opportunity for all Californians.
Johnson noted that as the state has cut funding for the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU), tuition has increased and grant aid has become increasingly important to help students afford college. Research has also shown that grants and scholarships help students persist in their education and enables students to focus on their coursework and complete college faster. UC and CSU remain less expensive options for low-income students in terms of “net price”—the cost of attending college after accounting for federal, state, and institutional aid—than non-profit and for-profit private colleges. However, students whose family incomes are $30,000 or less still pay nearly a quarter of their incomes, or $8,000 per year, to attend a public four-year college.
Improving college access and completion is vital to California’s economic well-being, and aid for students has become increasingly necessary. The legislature’s attention to this issue comes at a time when 60% of California high school students qualify for free and reduced price lunch and three-quarters of California’s low-income college freshmen are enrolled in a UC or CSU.