State Senate Committee Approves Tuition Bill

State Senate Committee Approves Tuition Bill

California’s Senate Education Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 15 last Wednesday, which addresses needs at all three of California’s higher education systems. 

The provisions of SB 15 include adding 7,500 additional Cal Grant Competitive Awards for older and non-traditional students. SB 15 also establishes the Graduation Incentive Grant, which rewards Cal State University students for completing 30 semester units per year. Furthermore, the bill repeals the 11-percent Cal Grant Award reduction that students attending private, non-profit universities previously faced. 

Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, who co-authored the bill with Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), thinks that SB 15 addresses an increasingly pressing need for more educated workers.

“A college degree has become an impossible dream for too many and that is threatening our economy,” de Leon said in an April 8 press release. “In 10 years, California will need over one million more college graduates than its producing to sustain economic demands.”

Though many news outlets have reported that SB 15 would provide funding to prevent the UC system tuition hikes, Block’s communications director Maria Lopez clarified to the UCSD Guardian that it actually only states the intent to do so.

“SB 15 does not specifically eliminate the UC’s proposed tuition increase,” Lopez said. “By stating the legislative intent, it means the authors intend to secure the necessary funding through the 2015–16 budget bill.”

Additionally, the bill endeavors to increase enrollment at the UC campuses by 500 students in 2015–16 and by even more thereafter.

According the UC Office of the President’s media specialist Shelly Meron, the university has taken a “support in concept” position on SB 15. 

UC Associate Vice President and Director of State Government Relations Steve Juarez wrote in an April 7 letter to the senators that though the university supports the major concepts of SB 15, the University of California thinks the bill is not ideal in its current form. 

“While we believe that specific provisions require further refinement we look forward to continuing our conversations on the bill and strengthening our partnership with the state to provide a high quality education for our students,” Juarez said. 

To help finance the $342 million plan, the State Senate proposed to eliminate the Middle Class Scholarship Program, citing the fact that students who applied only had to meet an income test and not an assets test. 

According to the San Jose Mercury News, the California Student Aid Commission reported earlier this year that nearly one out of every 10 of the students who received Middle Class Scholarship grants owned more than $250,000 in assets “and more than 1,000 students had more than $1 million in the bank.”  

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins told Mercury News that she wants to keep the program but is open to modifying it in order to improve its effectiveness.

“The Assembly is absolutely committed to letting the Middle Class Scholarship keep working, since it has already helped more than 75,000 California students, including middle-income and lower-income students that fall through the financial aid cracks at both CSU and UC,” Atkins said.

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