Tuesday, October 16

Sandra Wenceslao: UCLA must improve facilities, resources to make student debt worth it

College decisions should get students excited about picking their new school. But sometimes money gets in the way.

Nearly 100,000 people apply to UCLA each year because of its legendary academic prestige. It’s well known that students who attend UCLA will have access to some of the best faculty, resources and opportunities in the world. Recently, UCLA has been ranked 2nd among American public universities and 12th in the world.

But while UCLA’s prestige is growing, so is the average amount of debt college students take on in order to finance their education. They have to decide whether attending UCLA is worth the cost of loans they will eventually have to pay off.

My own decision was tough. I was constantly on the verge of panic attacks because of the questions that kept running through my head. I questioned whether I would like the environment I would be in for the next four years or if I’d be able to get a job that would allow me to pay off my loans. In the end, none of that mattered because I was drawn in by UCLA even if loans were the only way I would be able to attend. I am now one of the 44.2 million Americans with student loan debt.

This leads us to the – quite literal – million-dollar question. Are these sacrifices worth the prestige? Simply put, is UCLA “worth it”?

It is, but only if the university actually delivers the unmatched education it promises.

It’s no secret that being a Bruin isn’t cheap. In fact, the estimated total cost of attending UCLA and living on campus per academic year is $34,047 for California residents and $60,729 for nonresidents.

And because the financial stakes are so high, UCLA needs to overcome an ever-growing student body and limited educational resources to continue providing a high-caliber education.

UCLA students who have taken out loans have shown their appreciation for the resources and education UCLA provides – even at the cost of psychological and financial security.

For example, Joe Bernal, a first-year undeclared life science student, praised UCLA for its instructors – it was his dream to go here since high school. In fact, according to Bernal, loans should not even be a factor in students’ college selection process.

It’s clear many students agree with Bernal, judging by the seven in 10 college students in public schools who graduate with some form of student loan debt.

Yvonne Reyes, a first-year biology student, said that no matter where she goes she will have to take out a loan. UCLA made it worth her money. She said the school didn’t offer the best financial aid, but UCLA’s prestigious medical program drew her in.

Mariama Bah, a third-year biology student, thinks that taking out loans is worth it because she’s confident that UCLA will give her a path to a high-paying job that will help her pay off loans.

It’s a common sentiment. Rebecca Kendall, a UCLA senior media relations officer, stated that Labor Department statistics by the Economic Policy Institute estimate that a four-year college degree can help people earn 98 percent more than they could without a degree.

Given everyone’s attitude toward student loans, it is clear that it’s worth spending the money to get a stellar education. But UCLA needs to hold up its end of the bargain too. It needs to continue to improve and in order to do so, it should provide students with needed resources and a well-rounded education.

UCLA shouldn’t focus solely on research and getting Nobel prizes. They need to improve classroom quality and educational facilities by hiring more instructors to accommodate more students. Shrinking class sizes would allow for more instructor-student interactions, which would improve overall classroom quality. With smaller class sizes, there would be an opportunity to make the courses more hands-on, therefore more enjoyable.

The university must also advertise resources like Academic Advancement Program, the UCLA Alumni Association and the UCLA Career Center so both enrolled and potential students know exactly what job-finding tools are at their disposal. After all, these can create the connections students need to find a job after graduation.

And although UCLA’s academics are world renowned, a constantly growing freshman class threatens UCLA’s academic standing. More students means larger class sizes that don’t allow for students and instructors to have one-on-one discussions. Because of a budget deal with the state legislature, UCLA has been forced to accept over one thousand more students than last year from the overall 97,000 applicants.

Although that might not seem like much in such a big school, larger class sizes affect freshmen in several ways. We all know the struggle of trying to enroll in general education classes.

Let’s be clear: The UCLA experience is what each individual student makes of it. However, UCLA’s administration plays a crucial role in shaping that experience. The weight doesn’t just fall on students’ shoulders. For this reason, UCLA needs to continue emphasizing academic facilities like smaller class sizes and more student resources. People are willing to pay for it.

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Opinion columnist

Sandra Wenceslao is an Opinion columnist.

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