With budget cuts emptying the UC coffers, students like Alejandro Marquez are trying to figure out how to pay for a college education.
Despite the efforts of the university to continue to provide financial aid in the wake of its budgetary woes, Marquez has been forced to take out additional loans to meet fee increases.
“Sometimes it is a trouble paying for tuition. It’s been difficult having to take out loans with all the fee hikes,” Marquez, a fifth-year Spanish major, said. “Exponentially over the last four years, I’ve been getting less support from the financial aid. I’ve been having to get huge loans.”
Students in the same boat as Marquez, however, may be in luck. The University of California has remained committed to offering its financial aid packages even in light of budgetary constraints and tuition hikes.
According to the UCSB Financial Aid Office, 2009-10 Cal Grant awards are expected to fully cover the 9.7 percent increase in the student fees projected for UC and CSU schools in the next academic year. National Pell Grant awards will also be increased by up to $619, rising from $4,731 to $5,350. Nearly 24 percent of UCSB students will benefit from the increase.
In addition to the expansion of Cal Grant awards and national Pell Grants from President Obama’s stimulus plan, UCSB associate director for financial aid Michael Miller said that monetary assistance for students would continue to increase under the UC’s Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan.
“There has actually been an increase in funding,” Miller said. “The outlook is good.”
The Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan — approved by the UC Regents in Feb. 2009 — plans to cover the UC system-wide fees for undergraduates with household median incomes of up to $60,000. The plan will become effective Fall 2009.
Other Pell Grants — such as Academic Competitiveness Grants and Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant — will extend to permanent residents and non-citizens. It is estimated that about 800,000 students across the country will become eligible for Pell Grants.
Although state funding for higher education is remaining strong, Miller said private lenders are hurting during the economic recession.
“Alternative student loans are not funded through FAFSA,” Miller said. “Outside funding, like Wells Fargo and Bank of America, are being cut.”
Miller said universities and colleges nationwide have witnessed a 20 percent increase in the number of FAFSA applications submitted for the next school year, mainly due to the recent economic downturn.
In a letter on UCSB’s financial aid Web site, director of financial aid Ron Andrade outlined the new Request for Review process, which will evaluate a student’s FAFSA application individually upon appeal if they have been denied financial aid. The RFR will consider unique circumstances FAFSA does not attend to, such as loss of income or sudden tragic life experiences. With this process, the office will attempt to accommodate students to the best of its ability.
The first RFR for the 2009-10 academic year will be available on the UCSB financial aid Web site in mid-May.
Even with all the potential options for financial aid, Marquez said the continuous rise in interest rates for his student loans has hurt.
“For me, the first few years of school the interest rates were subsidized, but recently, I haven’t been getting that,” Marquez said. “They’ve been getting higher and higher.”