WatchSonoma Watch

GUEST OPINION: A plan to make college more affordable for the middle class


California’s public universities and colleges used to be a bargain for middle-class parents and students.

In addition to their relatively low cost, our UC and CSU campuses have long been considered among the top academic institutions in the nation. They were the ultimate equalizers, enabling good students to attend world-class institutions even if their parents were not wealthy.

Michael Allen

But thanks to the protracted national recession and chronic budget shortfalls, costs to attend these schools have risen dramatically over the last decade. Since the 2003-2004 school year, fees at California State University campuses have increased 191 percent; tuition at University of California campuses have increased by 145 percent, while fees for community college students have also gone up significantly.

While low-income students could still rely on Cal Grants and Pell Grants, the middle class has been forced to bear the burden of these higher costs. Many families have been forced to turn to student loans to bridge the gap, often through out-of-state lenders. In other instances, these higher costs have served as a deterrent to students who have become convinced that, for them, higher education has become out of reach.

Given the importance of a college education, both to students who will one day enter the job market and to the businesses which will ultimately decide whether to hire them, we cannot afford for this trend to continue.

To keep college affordable for all Californians, I am co-authoring legislation with Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and other Democratic members of the state Assembly to establish the Middle Class Scholarship Act, designed to make college tuition and fees more affordable for middle-income families.

The cost of implementing the new Middle Class Scholarship program will be covered by closing a tax loophole that benefits large out-of-state corporations. By exploiting that loophole, which provides unfair tax advantages for companies with property and payroll outside California, they are depriving the state of about $1 billion a year in revenue.

The additional funds generated by closing that onerous loophole will be directed toward tuition and fee assistance. With the middle class scholarship, CSU and UC students will fill out the standard financial aid forms. All students in the CSU and UC systems with family incomes less than $150,000 that do not already have fees covered will receive a scholarship that cuts their costs by two-thirds.

Under this proposal, for the CSU, approximately 150,000 students will receive the scholarship and save more than $4,000 per year. About 42,000 UC students will also receive the middle class scholarship and save up to $8,169 per year. Further, Community Colleges will receive $150 million to expand affordability efforts.

If passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the Middle Class Scholarship Act will ensure that students, graduates and families can keep more of their hard-earned cash and stay out of debt. This win-win solution for California’s economy is on the horizon, but it needs your help to make it a reality.

This effort will require a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature, which means some Republican legislators will have to join Democrats in supporting the plan.

Investing in California’s students is an investment in our future. For every $1 we spend on higher education, the state gets a $3 return on its investment. All Californians, including those from middle class families, deserve access to an affordable college education.

Enacting the Middle Class Scholarship Act will take effort. With enough persuasion from students, parents and all who depend on an educated workforce in California, it can become a reality.

Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, represents the 7th Assembly District, which includes portions of Sonoma and Solano counties plus all of Napa County.

30 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: A plan to make college more affordable for the middle class”

  1. Pimp My News says:

    Don’t trust anything Michael Allen says. He cheated the ratepayers when he took money from the Sonoma County Water Agency to lobby the City of Santa Rosa while serving on the Planning Commission. He voted on the issue he was lobbying for. The FPPC fined him $3,000! He also was running State Senator Pat Wiggins office while she was “out to lunch” , you know the story. Besides heading the AFL-CIO union, he had a number of related paying gigs. He had his fingers in multiple cookie jars. Now he’s moved to evade the local voters that will never vote for him again.

    Anything Michael Allen touches turns to crap and the sooner people vote him out the better. In fact, everything he has co-sponsored since he got eleced (before the FPPC fined him) is an attempt to rehabilitate him. Everyone should warn the voters in Marin that Michael Allen is bad news. If our media was any good they would have a full disclosure on everything Mr. Allen is involved in. It would fill a book.

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  2. GAJ says:


    I’m sure we agree on a lot more than we disagree on if we were to discuss the full breadth of issues, not just the snippets of opinion on the PD stories.

    I think we’re both in the same boat in that it is horrific what we are doing in terms of passing on such huge liabilities to future generations by being so greedy.

    At home, I’m sure, when faced with financial difficulty we both do what we can to cut expenses and increase revenues.

    Too bad our leaders can’t come up with a compromise that takes both into account.

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  3. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    GAJ-I finally agree with you. Santorum would be a disaster for this country. And good for you that you could manage private school for your kids. I would send my grandchildren to private school if I could afford it. This state being something like 47th of all the states in quality really stinks. WE COULD DO BETTER. First off, in this country get rid of at least 37 of the school districts and consolidate. That would save millions in administration costs.

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  4. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Michael Allen moved because he was redistricted out, not because of competition. I am truly disappointed that I won’t be able to vote for him but I will work for his election. He’s done wonderful things in the legislature for the middleclass and he is solidly behind working families whether union or not.

    I would hope he would help those graduates who can’t find decent paying jobs and are stuck with student loans they can’t pay back. It used to be, you graduated and you could almost always find a good job. These days secure, decent paying jobs are disappearing being replaced by temp, part time, lower paying jobs with no benefits AND NO JOB SECURITY.

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  5. Canthisbe says:

    “…the recent Health Care Act includes federalizing student loans and has some other effects on financial aid given out by states. Not sure why or how that was included in the Health Care Act,…”
    If you recall, Nancy Pelosi said “we have to pass the [Health Care Act] so we can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy”. Most of the Senators and Reps did not read the Act before they voted on it.

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  6. Big question says:

    Why is there only one person running against Michael Allen for Huffman’s assembly seat? Allen recently moved into the district for this seat and there is not a strong candidate running against him. Talk about a slam dunk!

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  7. Commonsense says:

    Thanks for the links and information about financial aid. I found it very interesting and something I hadn’t given much thought to in the past. The other aspect of this that I didn’t realize until doing some additional research on the issue of financial aid, is that the recent Health Care Act includes federalizing student loans and has some other effects on financial aid given out by states. Not sure why or how that was included in the Health Care Act, but it’s interesting.
    Those stats are very interesting when compared with the last budget stats I included in my first post. Especially since the passage of AB109 was supposed to decrease state spending on corrections (bill basically did away with state prison commitments for most crimes) and instead his proposal increases corrections spending for next fiscal year.

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  8. Grapevines says:

    Anyone who believes Democrat Michael Allen is out to help anyone except himself has already “drank the Kool-Aid.”

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  9. GAJ says:


    I paid, and continue to pay, taxes for Public Schools.

    I sent my kid to a private school after I determined that the Public Schools were inferior.

    So I paid twice.

    I’d do it again in a heartbeat even though it was expensive and I got zero tax breaks for it.

    As for Santorum, he stands zero chance of becoming Prez thankfully.

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  10. BigJim says:

    Jerry Brown’s budget proposal provides $10.7b to Corrections (prisons), including a $64m increase to salaries, and $9.8b to Higher Education. CSU presidents earn over $300k per year plus benefits. (http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/agencies.html)
    Average salaries in K-12 eduction are $58.9k, in the UC it is $73k, and in the Corrections it is $66k, plus benefits.

    As a middle class taxpayer, I earn too much for my kids to qualify for any college financial aid. Ironically, in part because of Financial Aid, college costs have gone through the roof.

    Whatever the reasons for the increase (it is not the recession since costs rose dramatically before the recession) I cannot now see a way to pay for my three kids to attend anything but the lowest cost college. The cost of education is now too high for the return on that investment, and something has to be done.

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  11. Canthisbe says:

    The more money the federal (and state)government pumps into financial aid, the more money the colleges charge for tuition. Inflation-adjusted tuition and fees have tripled over those same 30 years while aid quadrupled; the aid is going up faster than the tuition. Thanks to the federal government, massive sums of money are available to pay for massive tuitions.

    This has nothing to do with costs. According to Neal McCluskey’s research at the Cato Institute, it costs roughly $8,000 a year to educate an undergraduate at an average residential college. Yet the average college bill—including room and board—charged at a private four-year university is $37,000, and $16,000 at a public one.

    There are lots of other reasons why college costs have skyrocketed way past inflation.


    but the only answer the politicians can come up with is lets raise taxes. No one wants to discuss how to get more value for our tax dollars.

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  12. The Oracle says:

    Allen’s piece avoids criticizing the corporate culture and government enablers that got us into this mess, perpetuates the undemocratic myth that education is merely about manufacturing workers, and offers a practical solution to assist the increasingly squeezed middle class. Only the PD’s anti-government trolls would criticize this watered-down piece for not echoing their demonizations. Bless us all!

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  13. Reality Check says:


    The middle class is under stress today in America, for many reasons. For many the problem is simply uncontrolled spending on discretionary items. Consumption data of Americans for all manner of luxuries has skyrocketed over 30 yrs. It’s a myth to that most families are just getting by on pork and beans.

    Americans today spend first and save last. And their kids too often pick majors in college that are not in demand in the real world. Those that pick subjects in demand find good jobs waiting.

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  14. bear says:

    @mockingbird. We were doing the same thing at the same time, and I barely skated through on loans and part-time jobs. Paid off my loans at age 42.

    The rest of you – what do you want kids to do? Serve in the military instead of your kids? Endure lifetime debt? Never buy a house because student loans can’t be escaped through bankruptcy?

    What have all of you escaped through bankruptcy?

    It certainly appears that the right wing wants an uneducated electorate. Because you’re doing so much to create it.

    Greetings to all the Santorum supporters out there. Obama loves you.

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  15. Skippy says:

    I am constantly amazed that Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Corporations, Big everything is decried as unfair and wrong, except for Big Education and Even Bigger Govt.
    Where is the indignant outrage of the 99% over the skyrocketing cost of college?
    Why does Big College get a pass?
    Big Business actually produces items and services of value and they are excoriated for profiting from the risks they take.
    Big College sits in their Ivory Towers of academia with lifetime tenure and gold-plated retirements.
    A little accountability is due the taxpayers.
    I stand by my prescription: End Big Govt’s Education monopoly, don’t mend it.

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  16. Commonsense says:

    First my post wasn’t directed solely at your post (hence why it didn’t start with “@GAJ”), although I did address the same subject matter. The comment was a general comment based on the many articles and discussions in which the “pro-tax increase or your child’s education” position is often supported with the incorrect assertion that we spend more on courts and corrections then we do on education and social services.
    Second, the fact is that we don’t spend more on corrections then on higher education. Higher Education got $11,140 million while corrections and rehabilitation got $9,845 million. Keep in mind those figures do not include all the state and federal grant dollars that get handed out to higher education in this state or the private grant dollars.
    The facts are we spend the vast majority of revenues on education and social services.
    I do agree with your comment about the power of the guard union, which isn’t limited to Allen.

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  17. GAJ says:


    My post was clear, I never suggested we spend more on prisons than education as a whole, just on higher education.

    The growth in the power of the Prison Guard Unions’ power has grown exponentially, (thanks to supporters like Allen), to the detriment of higher education.

    “30 years ago, 10 percent of the general fund went to higher education and 3 percent went to prisons. Today, almost 11 percent goes to prisons and only 7.5 percent goes to higher education. Spending 45 percent more on prisons than universities is no way to proceed into the future.”


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  18. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Reality Check, once upon a time the middleclass could put money away but for most, not anymore. Once upon a time COLLEGE WAS CHEAPER TOO and jobs were there when you graduated. No more. THAT’S REALITY.

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  19. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Skippy-business depends on an educated workforce and THEY SHOULD BEAR SOME OF THE COST. Right now, Allen is right, it’s impossible for middleclass students to go to school-even to get subsidized school loans as their parents income is considered “too high”. If you’re poor the loans and grants are there for you. If you’re rich your parents can pay your way.

    Most students on loans ALSO WORK because it’s impossible to meet all expenses without working these days. I don’t understand your attitude at all. Are you happy that higher education is only there for the rich or rich children from other countries? That students come out of school owing a huge debt and can’t find jobs that pay high enough to be able to pay them back? That talented students have no hope of higher education? Got any kids yourself? Or maybe you’re rich and can afford it?

    I was lucky to go to SSU (then SSC) in the early 1970′s on loans and grants. There is NO WAY my lower middleclass parents could have given me a dime. I worked hard at an outside job too. I was lucky not to have a HUGE loan burden. But my daughter is struggling to pay her’s off WORKING 3 JOBS.

    The wealth is concentrated in the top 1%. Living and other expenses have outpaced income (those that actually have jobs). It didn’t used to be that way.

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  20. paul otero says:

    Don’t ask taxpayers to pay for something more until the out-of-control pensions and benefits to state workers are reformed!

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  21. Commonsense says:

    The state of california does not spend more money on prisons (corrections) then on education. Look at the actual budget.
    On K-12 education the state spent approximately $35,766 million (about 29% of the total budget expenditures). On higher education (college) the state spent about $11,140 million (over 7% of the total budget). On health and human services the state spent about $37,074 million (about 31% of the total budget). On environmental protection and natural resources the state spent $6,793 million (about 5% of the budget). Compare those numbers to what was spent on corrections and rehabilitation ($9,821 million or about7.8%), and it is clear that we spend much much more on education, health and human services and environmental issues then we do on corrections and rehabilitation.
    If one looks at the detail in the budget, including revenue sources then a good question is how are they estimating this influx of $1 billion. According to the budget the revenue received from corporate tax is $9,342 million (roughly 7%) of total revenue. What loophole do they estimate will increase that amount by $1 billion? How are they calculating that estimate? The same way they calculated a increase in revenue for this last year (how accurate was that estimate??) The largest amounts of our revenue by far come from personal income tax and sales/use taxes and those dollars are already spent largely on education and social services.
    Applying the actual facts to the vague idea/bill being drafted by Mr. Allen indicates to me that those in Sacramento really do not understand (or are ignorning) the reality of our situation.

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  22. Steveguy says:

    Why oh why do we keep voting these types in ? Over and over. A true social disease.

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  23. Joseph says:

    Clearly we have a spending problem and not a revenue problem. Allen has already given away millions to foreign criminals by having the state pay for their education by the dream act. Is this a`move to somehow try to make`that right by spending even more money we`do not have?

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  24. Canthisbe says:

    Did you ever notice that when someone pays for something, they usually take better care of it than when someone gives it to them for free?

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  25. Canthisbe says:

    It’s hard to find any real info on this (they don’t want to tell you the bad news, just the wonderful things they will be giving you) but it appears that the big tax loophole that out-of-state corporations are supposed to be exploiting is sales taxes on internet sales. They are not going to be paying the sales taxes. They are only going to be collecting the sales taxes from the purchasers. Can you guess who will be paying the billion dollars in sales taxes? Did you guess “you”?

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  26. Money Grubber says:

    Ahhhhhhhh. And the Press Democrat allows the PR puff piece written by Allen himself.

    No surprise.

    But notice that Allen says nothing of cutting public employee pensions that exceed what the average California voter-taxpayer even earns while working.

    YOU work until age 65 for social security.

    THEY, and Allen himself, work only until age 50. They manipulated the system so they can retire 17 years before YOU can.

    Allen says nothing of that in his public relations stunt here in the Press Democrat.

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  27. GAJ says:

    Mr. Allen has always been a huge proponent of out of control pay and benefits for Public Safety to the detriment of education.

    For him to not say “mea culpa” and work towards reform tells me he doesn’t even know the true impact of his policies…or simply prefers to play dumb.

    “California has racked up a dubious achievement. Our state is home to the most expensive prison system in the world, costing roughly $50,000 annually per prisoner. We now spend more of the general fund on prisons – almost 11 percent – than on higher education, which only gets 7.5 percent. California’s prison expenditures, which have increased 1,000 percent in the last three decades, are a substantial part of the state’s massive budget deficit. Moreover, prison costs are forcing cuts in education and badly needed youth services which are essential for reducing crime.”


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  28. Vowel Movement says:

    Disappointing reporting. I’d like to hear more about this “onerous tax loophole”. What about it is unfair?

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  29. Reality Check says:

    Once upon a time, and in a land far far away, middle class American put money aside to help pay for the college costs of their children. No more, apparently.

    We have become a land of conspicuous consumption. Americans consume more luxury goods than anyone of earth, yet we can’t seem to save anything for future needs. And why should we when politicians are offering free money to practically everyone?

    Never fear, someone else will pay for everything.

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  30. Skippy says:

    Democrat Allen has a plan to stick it to business rather than reform state education costs.
    Every time liberals tax businesses they leave the state and take their money and jobs with them. That’s a winning strategy!
    The cozy fiefdoms of the educrat elites must be figuratively burned to the ground.
    As long as the most important job Big Govt Education Inc. has is to guarantee a comfy retirement following a career working 9 months a year indoctrinating liberal serfs, the system will just get broker and the students dumber.
    End the Big Govt monopoly on education and privatize the entire system.

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