State scholarship program brings financial help for middle class families |

State scholarship program brings financial help for middle class families

Photo for The Union John Hart
Jorn Hart | The Union

The College Board recently released its annual “Trends in College Pricing” report. The good news is that this year’s percentage increase in college tuition is the lowest since the mid-1970s. But this news does little to calm the anxiety of many families who feel the high price of college puts it out of reach.

Educating yourself about the opportunities for financial aid can make a big difference in choosing the right college.

How much financial aid a family is eligible for is most often determined by the FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (

Student aid and loan amounts are calculated using the federal government’s estimate for “expected family contribution” or EFC on the FAFSA. Parents of senior students will fill this out in January, and the information will be sent to college financial aid offices to determine aid.

Most colleges offer two basic types of financial aid: need-based and merit aid.

Need-based is aid granted to students who require financial help to attend college and have a low expected family contribution.

Merit aid is based on student accomplishments and not based on financial need. These accomplishments can include a high grade-point average or exceptional talent.

Indications are that colleges are funneling more of their dollars into merit scholarships these days as a way to attract desirable students. This is especially true if a student’s grade-point average and test scores are substantially higher than the average student attending that college.

Often, students who have the most trouble paying for college aren’t from low-income families; they are middle-income students who don’t qualify for financial aid. California is trying to do something about this by offering the Middle Class Scholarship program.

This program would reduce the tuition and fees for many middle-income families.

Starting in the 2014-15 academic year, the program would apply to undergraduate students with family incomes up to $150,000 and who attend a University of California or California State University campus. Scholarship amounts may vary by student and institution, and is being phased in over four years. Families who earn up to $100,000 per year are eligible for up to a 40 percent tuition/fee discount.

To qualify, you must submit your FAFSA. Make sure your GPA verification is on file with the California Student Aid Commission.

If you do have to borrow money, realize that not all loans are created equal. In general, interest rates and fees are lower for federal student loans (subsidized) than private student loans. This can change from year to year however.

For information on federal, state and local scholarships, plan to attend the free public Financial Aid Night at 6 p.m. Dec. 3 at Nevada Union High School in the Don Baggett Theatre. You can also find more information on my website at

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor, who now works as an independent college counselor. She can be reached at or

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