CSU to increase student grants to cover all tuition and living costs

California State University trustees have voted to broaden grants in order to cover the entire cost of tuition and living expenses for students who demonstrate their financial need to attend college.

This decision marks the initial stage in fulfilling the commitment made by the trustees last fall, ensuring that at least one-third of the revenue generated from a 6% annual tuition hike will be allocated to financial assistance. A more detailed plan will be proposed to the board in May.

During the five-year span of the tuition increase, over $280 million will be allocated for financial aid, resulting in a total funding increase to the State University Grant of $981 million by the 2028-29 academic year.

Currently, approximately 87% of Cal State students have their tuition either fully or partially covered by grants and aid. However, some students still face difficulties in covering other costs associated with attending college, such as food, housing, and transportation.

While housing and food expenses vary by region, the total annual cost of attendance across the state ranges from $22,000 to $32,000. Nearly 40% of CSU students rely on loans to bridge the gap between their financial aid and the actual expenses.

Trustee Julia Lopez highlighted, “The fact is tuition as the price of admission is not what keeps students away from CSU,” adding, “Almost nine out of ten students receive some form of tuition grant, but it’s other costs.”

With the aim of enabling students to work less and graduate earlier, the trustees favor granting stipends to cover expenses once tuition costs have been met. These stipends, amounting to up to $5,000, will be prioritized for students with the greatest financial needs. Until now, the State University Grant has traditionally been used to cover tuition fees.

In addition to this decision, the trustees have also voted in favor of implementing consistent measurements and communications regarding financial aid across all 23 campuses. This move comes after the significant disparities were found, making it challenging for families to compare financial aid offers.

However, CSU is facing an immediate challenge in its efforts to improve financial aid— the national rollout of FAFSA simplification. The rollout of the new, simplified Free Application for Federal Student Aid was delayed from October 1st to December 31st. On Tuesday, colleges and universities were informed that they would not receive students’ financial aid information until March, squeezing the timeline for students who generally have until May 1st to choose a college.

Nathan Evans, CSU’s vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, expressed concerns that the issues with the new FAFSA may have even harsher consequences for California.

One of the problems arises with students who are permanent residents or U.S. citizens but have an undocumented parent. They are unable to complete the new application as it requires a Social Security number for each parent or guardian. Similarly, parents without Social Security numbers are also unable to contribute to existing FAFSA forms.

Evans mentioned that representatives from CSU, the University of California, community colleges, and the state’s independent colleges held a meeting earlier this week with the California Student Aid Commission to discuss potential workarounds.

Another complication for CSU’s financial aid plans is the scheduled expansion of the Cal Grant, which offers assistance to low-income students in the state. However, funding for the expansion must first be approved by the Legislature. The institutional aid numbers for CSU students would depend on the amount of aid they receive from other federal and state programs.

Evans concluded, “This is a year like none other. There are some additional complexities this year, given that not only has the application been revamped, but calculations are changing … so there is a lot of unpredictability in the process.”