Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Understanding Financial Aid: Not Easy

I have always wanted to know what it means when UC says that students would not have to pay tuition if their parents made less than $80,000 a year. So I went to the UCLA financial aid estimator, and I punched in a few variables, and here is what I found.

In the case of a family of four with an income of $75,000, here is what we get: Parent Contribution:
Estimated Award Letter
Grant Award:
Self Help Award:
Family Help Award:

Estimated Total Price of Attendance
University Fees
Room and Board
Books and Supplies
Health Insurance
Loan Fees
Total Cost of Attendance:

So, the first thing you might want to know is what are “Self Help” and “Family Help” awards. I looked all over the web site and several other sites, and I could not find any definition of these categories. I then called the UCLA financial aid office, and after waiting several minutes on hold, I finally got a live voice, but this voice could not answer my questions, and so I was transferred to a supervisor. When I asked him what these terms meant, he said he thinks “self help award” refers to student loans and work-study aid, but he had never heard of a “family help award.” I told him that it is on his web site, but he responded that the federal government is requiring the university to put this information online, but they are not responsible for its content.

I am guessing that the family help award is a loan, but I really don’t know; however, what I do know is that while everyone talks about the high cost of tuition, the biggest driver of costs and student debt is housing and related expenses. It turns out that this issue tracks national data. In 1990-91, total tuition, fees, room and board at public universities averaged $5,585, and in 2009-10, this cost rose to $16,712, which represents an increase of $11,127. Meanwhile for community colleges, the total cost in 1990-91 was $3,467, and in 2009-10, it went to $7,703 for an increase of $3,403. During the same period, average tuition and fees for public universities rose from $2,159 to $8,123 for an increase of $5,964, while for community colleges tuition and fees went from $824 to $2,285 for a total increase of $1,461. This means that the biggest cost increases for public higher education concern room and board, but few people ever discuss this fact.

Next Week I plan to return to my last blog on how to make all public higher education free. I had to take it down because there was an error in my analysis.


  1. Allan Stewart-OatenApril 25, 2012 at 6:21 PM

    Please, Please, ALWAYS use inflation-adjusted dollars when comparing two years as far apart as 1990 and 2009, and say that you did. As it is, I don't know what your comparisons mean.

  2. These statistics are in current dollars:

  3. I'm a bit confused on how the total cost of education + room and board in 2009-2010 was $16,712 when your total cost figure above lists $31,646 (with $13,980 for room and board alone)?

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  4. My blog discusses both national averages ($16,712 for public universities) and the UC estimated costs ($31,646).

  5. This write up really evokes the thought behind this matter. Do we really think on the issue so intensely?

  6. Chancellor says that instate tuition at public universities not high enough. University of California Berkeley (UCB) Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau is outspoken on why elite public universities should charge more. With Birgeneau’s leadership flagship UCB is more expensive (on an all-in-cost) than private Harvard and Yale. Cal. is the most expensive public higher education in our country!

    Birgeneau likes to blame the politicians, since they stopped giving him every dollar expected. The Chancellor’s ‘charge more’ instate tuition skyrocketed fees by an average 14% per year from 2006 to 2011-12 academic year. If Birgeneau had allowed fees to rise at the same rate of inflation over the past 10 years they would still be in reach of most middle income students. Increasing funding is not Cal’s solution.

    UCB is a public universities created to maximize access to the widest number of instate students at a reasonable cost: mission of diversity and equality of opportunity. Unfortunately Birgeneau’s ‘charge more’ instate tuition diminishes the equality and inclusion principles which underlie our state and country. Birgeneau’s and Provost George Breslauer’s senior management ‘charge more’ instate tuition denies middle income Californians the transformative value of university education.

    Chancellor Birgeneau’s tenure is a sad unacceptable legacy. University of California Berkeley is now farther and farther out of reach for the sons and daughters of Californians.

    Send your opinion: UC Board of Regents and your Calif. State Senator and Assembly member.

  7. For most kids, the only way they will get a college education is by taking on tens of thousands of debt. Very sad.

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  9. The numbers make sense. The "family award" is the expected family contribution (however obtained), the "self help award" is the student working while going through college. the grant of $11,586 is real money. Sadly, although it may cover "tuition" it does not seem to cover "fees".

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  17. I seemed all over the website and several other websites, and I could not discover any meaning of these groups. I then known as the UCLA economical aid workplace, and after patiently waiting several moments on hold.

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