SB15 Would Help Relieve Tuition Woes, but Hurt Middle Class

California college students can’t seem to catch a break politically. Keeping with the state’s unwritten education policy of “one step forward, two steps back,” California’s most powerful legislative body has created Senate Bill 15, a bill meant to help students by incentivizing timely graduations of Cal State University system students. It would also give more funding to UC schools and essentially force the UC Board of Regents to discontinue their proposed tuition hike. While that fits the description of the kind of bill students need, its funding would come at the cost of the recently instated Middle Class Scholarship fund by many measures that would be a more valuable asset to UC and CSU students than SB15.

This wasn’t the original idea for the bill. It wasn’t supposed to gut the Middle Class Scholarship. In fact, the bill was supposed to be paid for almost entirely by state general funds. But the state recently audited the MCS program and found that some wealthy people were using a loophole to take advantage of it, so they added a measure in SB15 that would “re-purpose” the program, which is a particularly fancy way of saying that no students after this year would be able to receive middle class scholarships.

Whether the bill passes or fails, UC students stand to lose if we’re taking the “glass half-empty” approach. It comes down to the choice between tuition hikes or no MCS fund. On a general stand of principle, though, the clear choice is to fail the bill and keep middle class scholarships. The program funds roughly $100 million in scholarships each year, and it goes to the group of students that is often the most neglected. Students, especially minorities, who pulled themselves out of poverty to go to UCSD often have no trouble finding financial aid, and wealthier families don’t generally have to worry as much about the relatively cheaper costs of the UC system.

But it seems like nearly all UCSD students have a few friends — or probably more than a few friends — whose families make decent money and, because of that, the students have scarce opportunities for scholarships and incur a massive pile of debt by the end of school. If SB15 passes and those students lose one of their best chances for financial aid, what does that say about the government’s attitude against the dwindling middle class?

This isn’t to say that not passing the bill would be the best choice from all points of view. From a utilitarian standpoint, the middle class scholarships are still being used for students, and the bill would inject $300 million in general funds in to California colleges over three years, most likely preventing a tuition hike. It would honestly be a better scenario for both non-middle class UC students and nearly all CSU students, who would be able to receive about $1,000 per year while in college for passing a certain number of units.

Realistically, the bill will likely not be passed, especially since the MCS program is fairly new and state politicians would be more than a little hesitant to kill it off so quickly. It’s also a loss because, if the money had been pulled entirely out of California’s general fund, then everyone in the UC and CSU systems would stand to benefit. But maybe California’s state legislature doesn’t deem education to be a good enough long-term investment to be worth the full $1 billion out of the general budget over the next three years. That would be too bad because it’s really everyone’s loss.