California lawmakers unveiled a plan Monday to create the country's first college aid program that would not only cover the cost of tuition for low-income students but also the living expenses for those with student loans attending public colleges and universities.
Roughly 55 percent of all college students in California reportedly graduated with debt averaging $21,382 from the 2014-2015 school year.
The new student aid program would make the California Student Aid Commission the most generous in the country by covering living expenses like books and transportation, which is estimated to account for 60 percent of the cost of attending University of California system schools, the Los Angeles Times reported. Other “free college” programs in Oregon and Tennessee were covering the full cost of tuition for low-income students but not living expenses.
More than 60 percent of Cal State students had their full tuition covered by the California Student Aid Commission, compared to roughly half of University of California and community college students.
California lawmakers said the new aid program, which was estimated to cost about $1.6 billion annually, will be given to students in the form of a scholarship. The new college aid program would cover the living expenses for University of California and Cal State students, but for not those attending community colleges.
Under the plan, the state would increase the number of grants given to community college students, covering the first year of tuition for those attending them full-time.
Despite receiving the scholarships, students’ parents who have an annual income of more than $60,000 would be expected to make a minor monetary contribution towards the student's tuition. The scholarship would cover the rest of the cost of college, which is estimated to be $21,000 at Cal State schools and $33,000 at University of California schools when living expenses are included.
“Lower-income students … are able to many times, through our great programs in California, get help to pay for tuition. But they’re still graduating with a tremendous amount of debt,” The assembly bill's sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty told the LA Times. “The cost of living, the books, the transportation — that’s [what] we really need to tackle.”
Because students' living expenses were not completely covered by California's current financial aid program, the average low-income student receiving financial aid still graduated with an estimated average of $20,000 in debt in 2014, lower than the national average for students of all income levels, which was $28,950.