“Degrees Not Debt”

Making College More Affordable, and Creating a Path to Debt Free College

As the sixth largest economy in the world, California needs graduates ready to innovate in business, technology, agriculture and other sectors. Debt stifles innovation, and today’s students are graduating with more debt in real world dollars than their forebears.

Any qualified student should be able to attend college regardless of financial means. California has gone further than many other states in putting college within the reach of more people—but there is more work to be done.

The legislative package unveiled by Assembly Democrats creates the “Degrees Not Debt” scholarship program, as well as creates a path to a debt free college for all California students.

  • Establish Degrees Not Debt Scholarships: 
    • Degrees Not Debt Scholarships will be available to some 390,000 CSU and UC students.
    • The Degrees Not Debt Scholarships recognize the full cost of college and will be awarded to all recipients of Cal Grants, University Grants, and Middle Class Scholarships to replace student debt.
    • The Degrees Not Debt Scholarships will be phased in over a five year period, thereby reducing student debt by 20% each year until debt free college is fully achieved.
  • Make Community College More Affordable: 
    • Provide tuition-free community college for the first year for full time community college students and expand the Success Grants program to assist lower income students cover living expenses.
  • Protect the Middle Class Scholarship:
    • Protecting the Middle Class Scholarship enables 55,000 students to avoid having out-of-pocket tuition costs spike by up to 40 percent.
  • Support efforts to avoid tuition increases at CSU, UC and Community Colleges.
  • Improve access to College Saving Accounts to help families save to cover their expected contributions.
  • How the Degrees Not Debt Scholarships work:
    • The average full cost of education is about $21,000 at the CSU and about $33,000 at the UC. Once fully phased in, the Degrees Not Debt Scholarships will enable students to meet these costs without depending on student loans.
    • Each student will retain their existing financial aid, just as they do today, including Federal Pell Grants, Cal Grants, University Grants, and the Middle Class Scholarship.
    • Students with family incomes over $60,000 would have a reasonable expected contribution set at just 33% of the federal guidelines.
    • Students would continue to contribute to their expenses through part time jobs, though they likely would be able to work fewer hours than they do today.
    • The Degrees Not Debt Scholarships then fill in the gap between the full cost of education and the sum of: existing financial aid; a part time job; and the family contribution (if one applies).
    • If fully implemented for the 2018-19 school year, the cost of the Degrees Not Debt Scholarships would be $1.6 billion.
    • Phasing in the Degrees Not Debt Scholarships over a five year period will make the costs manageable for the state budget and will reduce student borrowing by 20% each year until debt free college is achieved.
    • Phasing in the program also provides for strong oversight and program improvements during the phase in to ensure the program is best meeting the goals of reducing dependence on college debt.
    • The increasing minimum wage will naturally increase the value of the students’ contributions through a part time and summer employment.  Therefore, once phased in the full cost will be about $1.2 billion each year.