The Price of Education: The Impossible Burden Students Face to Afford Housing, Food, and Education

hungry students
Photo courtesy of Augustine Ng
Homeless Students
photo credit: 48days.com

There are lots of ways that UC and CSU students are affected by the lack of affordable housing. In all majors, students are taking on additional debt for college and most now also face higher housing costs. In fact, a recent study estimated that 13,000 students in the UC system face unstable housing and another study estimated that 1 in 10 CSU students were homeless.

The LA times recently ran a piece about a Berkeley student that catalogues in excruciating detail the kinds of the day to day struggles he encounters. UC Santa Cruz is asking staff to help house incoming students. UC Davis is located in a city with a 99% occupancy rate where landlords reign supreme and deposits are considered gifts.

Housing isn’t the only hurdle students’ face; many also experience food insecurity. In a survey of students, the UC Student Food and Security Access study found that 19% of student respondents had eaten less than they needed because they didn’t have enough money. The study also found that many students reporting food insecurity (57%) were facing this issue for the first time. 

uc davis food pantry
Photo credit: Max Whittaker/Prime for The Wall Street Journal

Housing and food insecurity have real consequences. If you are worried about where you will sleep or where your next meal is coming from, it is unlikely that you are focusing on academics. Studies have found that food and housing insecurity results in lower grades, students take longer to finish, and there is an increasing risk of chronic health effects. This is not the making of a strong middle class.

A grand gesture by the UC Office of the President gave each campus $75,000 in 2015 and $151,000 in 2016 to address some of the immediate challenges students face in getting nutritious food. The campuses have responded with food pantries that range in size and scope. The UC Irvine SOAR pantry is student initiated and run and allows students to access food when needed; it serves between 100 and 400 student per week. One student quotes, “This food pantry has helped make a difference in my life because college is very expensive and I come from a low income family so it’s not always easy for my family to pay for everything I need, so this pantry helps make things easier and saves me money.”

The UC’s offer financial aid to students, but it isn’t enough. Financial aid is supposed to encompass the full costs of college, including fees but also living expenses. However, the calculations are clearly failing to keep up with the escalating cost of living in many parts of the state. Moreover, the minimum amount that every student (apart from Regent’s Scholars) is expected to contribute from loans and working a paid job goes up every year. At Berkeley and UCLA this amount is $9000. Davis is the lowest at $8000. The escalating costs of living puts an impossible burden on students with limited family resources. It is disgraceful that students are hungry and homeless because our system fails to truly support them financially.

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