Tuition at the University of California has doubled since 2005 and at California State Universities since 2007. Waivers are given to students who come from families earning less than $70,000 or $80,000, depending on the school system.
For thousands, like CSU student Jeremy Anselmi, his parents make above that, but not enough to pay for college entirely.
"You're kind of in limbo. You need help and you want help, but there's nothing out there for you," said Anselmi.
With tax revenue looking brighter these days, California lawmakers are poised to approve a Middle Class Scholarship plan for students attending UC and Cal State Universities, reducing tuition on a sliding scale.
When fully ramped up by the 2017-18 school year:
- Families making $80,000 to $100,000 a year qualify for a 40 percent discount.
- Up to $125,000 a year, the break falls to 25 percent.
- At the top end, up to $150,000, 10 percent is shaved off.
Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) wants to help the middle class, which he says has been squeezed during the recession.
"We have an absolute crisis in college affordability. When you look across the country, student loan debt now exceeds individual credit card debt," said Perez.
But opponents have some concerns. Cal Grants for poor students were cut 5 percent last year. They would rather see more money put back into that program.
The Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities points out the plan doesn't increase access to higher education. They say resources need to be focused on lower income families.
"We know that a student who has a financial aid package and can count on that for four years makes the difference. It gives them a level of assurance, and that's important," said Kristen Soares with the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities.
But a tuition discount could mean Anselmi wouldn't have to work as many hours per semester while going to school.
"Getting a 25 percent discount from $3,700? That's a lot of money. That can go a long way," said Anselmi.
Lawmakers hope to boost Cal Grant funding next year.