Capitol Alert

UC financial aid for out-of-state students a surprise to many

Students wander the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles.
Students wander the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles. The New York Times

In 18 years as a college counselor in Santa Fe, Jennifer Dryfoos has sent many students to the University of California. But for the first time this year, a needy advisee received a financial aid package from the university.

Dryfoos said she was so stunned by the offer, which included $23,000 in grants and scholarships, that she called the school to check that it was real. Her student will attend UC Santa Cruz this fall for less than it would cost a Californian.

“I tell students, ‘If you need financial aid, don’t even consider applying to the UC,’” she said. “This blew me away.”

California lawmakers aren’t the only ones surprised to discover that UC offers institutional aid to out-of-state students. Many college counselors have long discouraged applicants because of its high cost for nonresidents – a $23,000 supplemental fee, on top of about $34,000 for tuition, supplies and living expenses – and the difficulty of covering that expense with just federal and private scholarships.

An Assembly budget subcommittee recently uncovered $32 million that UC spent on institutional aid for nonresidents in 2013-14, leading to a blistering hearing at the Capitol last week.

The university defended the program as only fair, given that a third of all UC tuition revenue automatically goes to a financial aid pool for needy students. Nonresidents should be able to benefit if they contribute, officials said, and they have for decades, as long as out-of-state students have been attending UC.

But the amount provided to out-of-state students has grown in recent years, as the university turned increasingly to recruiting outside of California to make up for massive budget cuts during the recession. Nonresidents now comprise about 13 percent of all undergraduates at UC, up from 4 percent a decade ago; during that same period, the amount spent on financial aid climbed fivefold, from $6 million in 2003-04 to the $32 million spent last year, according to the university.

Even those offers are often not enough for nonresidents, however, especially because UC provides no aid to cover the out-of-state fee, which now brings in hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the university.

Emily Standish, who has worked as a college counselor in Portland for five years, also discourages her students from applying to UC because the cost is “completely out of reach” for so many nonresidents.

“Most scholarship money comes from the college students attend,” she said. “Our students can get merit scholarships from private colleges that can make the cost significantly lower” than a UC.

One of her students this year, whose family is unable to contribute anything to the cost of attendance, unexpectedly received a generous grant from UCLA. But the aid package still stuck him with $32,000 to pay, including the nonresident fee. He will be attending Cornell University, who “gave him everything,” instead.

It’s not an uncommon experience for Standish’s students.

“When all is said and done, they just don’t choose” UC, she said, “because private colleges are cheaper.”

Alexei Koseff: (916) 321-5236, @akoseff

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