A new report on college costs and accessibility shows that the University of California’s financial aid program has shielded low-income students and their families from tuition increases caused by substantial declines in state funding for higher education.

“Making College Possible for Low-Income Students: Grant and Scholarship Aid in California,” released by the Public Policy Institute of California this week, confirms there has been virtually no change in net price for low-income students at UC between the 2008-09 and 2011-12 academic years. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, the net price has declined slightly.

Among 49 private and public four-year colleges and universities in California, UCLA ranked 18th for the lowest net college cost paid by low-income freshmen in the 2011-12 academic year.

California’s public colleges and universities continue to enroll 85 percent of the state’s low-income college students, the report said. At UC, 42 percent of all undergraduates qualified for Pell Grants in 2012-13, the highest proportion nationwide for comparable research universities. According to the PPIC report, the top 10 California four-year colleges for enrollment of low-income freshmen include five UC campuses: Irvine, Riverside, Davis, Los Angeles and San Diego.

UCLA ranked eighth on the list of public and private colleges in California with the largest number of low-income freshmen in the 2011-12 academic year.

The state’s public colleges and universities also direct almost all of their institutional aid to low- and middle-income students, with UC providing seven times more grant aid to low-income students than to high-income students, the report showed.

Low-income students at UC have access to robust financial aid offerings. The university’s Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan assures that the university’s systemwide tuition and fees are fully covered by grant or scholarship funding for California resident students who qualify for financial aid and whose total family income is less than $80,000 a year.

The costs of attending college have generally increased in recent years, including at state colleges and universities in California, according to this week’s report. The rise in costs, it says, is a direct result of the reductions in state support for public higher education made during the recession. Since then, state funding increases have been relatively small compared to earlier cuts.                           

The PPIC report also suggests policy improvements that could address college access and affordability issues for low-income students. It recommends educators do more to encourage students to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), submit it on time and provide a GPA verification form to the California Student Aid Commission. UC encourages all students to file a FAFSA, The Financial Aid Office at UCLA has made available a FAFSA guide for students and families.

The full PPIC report is available online here.