Middle class being squeezed by college tuition 

click to enlarge An effort is afoot to raise taxes to fund middle-class scholarships. - MIKE KOOZMIN/SPECIAL TO THE SF EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/Special to The SF Examiner
  • An effort is afoot to raise taxes to fund middle-class scholarships.

Chad Richards is the oldest of three children in a family that is comfortably middle-class. But with three college tuition bills to pay, they are no strangers to sacrifice.

“The cost of college is just insane,” said Richards, a San Francisco State senior majoring in technical writing, who will graduate with about $18,000 in student debt. “The only scholarships I can qualify for are $300 or $400. I acknowledge that I have it better than a large proportion of America, but that being said, education is by no means affordable.”

Ryan Blake, the son of a Menlo Park accountant, considers his family solidly middle-class. But as the price of tuition has risen, the San Francisco State junior majoring in accounting has had to find ways to save, such as taking half his classes at City College of San Francisco rather than pay full-time Cal State tuition.

“We’re balancing the budget by consigning loans onto students,” Blake said. “I can’t afford to go full time. I grind to do what I have to do to get through school.”

For students like Blake and Richards, who are considered too rich to qualify for most state and federal education grants but still struggle to pay tuition, hope may lie with legislation recently introduced by California Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles).

The Middle Class Scholarship Act would end a tax break for out-of-state companies that do business in California, with the resulting $1 billion in revenue going toward scholarships for public college students whose families earn less than $150,000 a year. About 42,000 University of California and 150,000 Cal State students would qualify, according to Pérez.

“California made a promise, that every single person who worked hard in high school would have the opportunity to go to and make the most of their potential at a UC, CSU or Community College,” Pérez said. “But for thousands of students across California, the debt is too much to take on, and the bill is too high to pay.”

Pérez noted that as state support for education has been cut, tuition at Cal State campuses, including San Francisco, has nearly tripled since 2003. Tuition at University of California schools has soared by 145 percent.

If Pérez’s bill becomes law, it would cover two-thirds of fees at UC and Cal State campuses and provide $150 million to help community colleges stay affordable. But because the bill involves a tax increase, it requires a two-thirds majority of the Assembly and the Senate, a bar that has proved insurmountable in the past.

Richards said he was not overly optimistic, but he anticipated the bill would be enthusiastically embraced by college students.

“I think there’s a lot of anger right now,” he said.


Shrinking Middle Class

Over the last decade, the proportion of middle-class students on University of California campuses has shrunk.

Family Income 1999  
$50,000 or less  
29% 30% 34%
$50,000 to $149,000 50% 47% 41%
More than $149,000 20% 23% 25%

Source: University of California 2011 Accountability Report

Rising Tuition

$7,126 - University of California tuition in 2008-09

$12,192 - University of California tuition in 2011-12

$2,772 - CSU tuition for 2007-08

$5,970 - CSU tuition for 2012-13

$8,000 - potential savings for UC students under Middle Class Scholarship Act

$4,000 - potential savings for CSU students

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