Free Tuition for the Middle Class? Not Yet


Gwendolyn Wu
Staff Writer

Recently, Stanford University announced that tuition would be free to all students whose families make less than $125,000, and for students whose families make less than $65,000, room and board would be as well. Previously, they offered free tuition to families making less than $100,000. Sounds like a perfect system to implement at UCSB, right?

Not quite.

In theory, it sounds amazing—we’re at a school where an average of 41 percent of admitted freshmen in 2012, 2013, and 2014, come from families making more than $100,000 a year. Additionally, on average over the past three admitted classes, 43.6 percent of students fall in an income bracket lower than $60,000. Imagine how thousands of UCSB students would be affected. That means fewer student loans, less stress on parents, and perhaps most importantly, more money for Freebirds’ burritos (hello, guacamole!).

However, the truth is that we would not be able to afford to do that, for students and the UC system alike. Stanford’s endowment is a whopping $21.4 billion, while UCSB’s is a meager $258 million. This goes with what they receive in funding from the government, investments, and other private practices. We barely manage as is as part of the UC system, where tuition is allegedly our biggest revenue generator. According to a UC Regents report, 11.8 percent of the UC budget for 2013-2014 comprised of “tuition and fees,” working out to roughly $3 billion spread thin between all campuses.

At Stanford, the sticker price for the 2015-2016 school year is $60,427, while here at UCSB, the total comes out to $35,834 (in-state). According to figures from both school’s federal budget reports, 5 percent of Stanford’s yearly budget goes towards need-based financial aid, totaling $125 million given out on need-based grants and scholarships by the university. Here at UCSB, the figure looks like $80 million. A number of factors explain the difference, including different budgets, smaller student bodies, and of course, fewer students who need financial aid.

On the same budgeting websites, Stanford reported that 3,414 of 6,980 undergraduate students were in need of any financial aid last year, and all received at least some financial aid. At UCSB, 12,285 of our 19,913 students demonstrated a need for financial aid, and 344 of those students didn’t receive any financial aid. So while the financial aid office wants to offer us more money, we’re stretching our budget so tight that they can’t.

College is often toughest on the middle class, where students are taking out tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to finance all four years of an undergraduate degree. While the UCs have tried to mitigate this burden with the Middle Class Scholarship, the glaring truth is that it doesn’t affect enough students to make a dent. Stanford is able to take in a smaller pool of students and give half of their students the financial aid they need to afford school while the other half pay full fees.

It wouldn’t just hurt our tight budget to imitate them. Stanford’s simple model allows middle-class students to know whether they can afford college. At other colleges, students have no idea what they are expected to contribute or take out in loans until the FAFSA has been filed and the financial aid offices offer their packages, leaving us hanging in limbo. If we draw the line at certain income levels—thresholds far lower than theirs due to our student body’s income levels—we risk hurting application rates if people are able to see that they can’t afford an education here. This, in turn, could plummet UCSB’s worth based on our selectivity (an unfortunate, systematic problem with higher education), and consequently, our degrees’ worth.

We post our cost of attendance online and offer a net price calculator for prospective students so they can see where they stand. We can ask our alumni to donate more and increase scholarship funds. We can stand up against tuition hikes and implore the government to find value in our public education system and give it the funding it deserves. But for now, we can’t afford to make money as black and white as the Cardinal does.