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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLA2020 Racial Justice Movement

UC must address financial needs of students of color and low-income families

(Kyle Icban/Daily Bruin)

By EJ Panaligan

April 22, 2019 10:35 pm

Low-income students face an uphill battle both ways: on their journey into higher education and on their way out.

A report published in March by the University of California Student Association and The Institute for College Access and Success showed student debt distribution was slanted toward students of color and of low-income families. The study found that two-thirds of dependent African-American, Chicano and Latino UC graduates from the 2017-2018 academic year had borrowed money, compared to only 40% of white graduates.

The disparity doesn’t stop there. Nearly 66% of graduates with family incomes less than $29,000 had borrowed money, compared to only 22% of graduates with family incomes totaling more than $173,000. UCLA graduates average the highest amount of debt across the nine UC campuses, with 42% of Bruins racking up about $22,300 in post-graduation payments.

The lack of state-provided, need-based financial aid and inadequate Cal Grant funding are partially responsible for these statistics.

But the UC’s financial aid programs are also to blame. While they are lauded as some of the country’s most generous, awarding aid to more than three-fourths of undergraduate students in 2017, many receiving funding are still forced to work through part-time jobs and student loans to pay the bills.

That’s because the UC doesn’t take into account the entirety of its students’ situations when considering them for financial aid. Family tax information and income are not enough to capture an individual’s socioeconomic status, and we’d be fooling ourselves if we thought campuses like UCLA provide enough aid to students in need.

The UC must retool and improve its approaches to financial aid to supplement disadvantaged students. It needs to employ a holistic interview process when considering students for financial aid, and must make use of alternative funding, like private donations, to fulfill its obligation to students.

The University has worked diligently to address debt issues faced by low-income students, said Amy Weitz, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President. It has been working to enhance Cal Grants on the state level and loan forgiveness efforts on the federal level, she said.

But this advocacy is insufficient. Tuition costs insidiously increase by small percentages each year. Housing fees for university apartments at UCLA have seen a 3.5% increase in the past year. The cost of living in California is on a nonstop upward trend. And campuses like UCLA are fine with using their $4.2 billion in private funding and endowments on athlete-exclusive academic centers when very little of it finds its way to low-income students.

Christina Sargsyan, a first-year psychobiology student, said taking out loans and finding a part-time job were the only way to cover the housing costs that her financial aid didn’t. Her part-time job prevents her from volunteering for clubs.

“While I enjoy my job, it does get in the way of things,” Sargsyan said. “Because of my job, I have to take 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. classes, which causes me to feel tired all the time even if I go to bed early.”

In other words, Sargsyan has been deprived of a full college experience because UCLA didn’t give her enough aid.

The troubling narrative this tells is that low-income students of color are groomed for a graduate life of searching for employment while struggling to keep up with loan repayments. These financial burdens prevent them from kickstarting their professional careers and building a life for themselves.

And it’s almost as if the UC has settled for this reality. It congratulates itself on how it manages to pull aid packages together, when really its students’ insufficient packages should signal otherwise.

The least the University can do for its students is ensure it is fully addressing their financial needs. A holistic interview process for financial aid would allow students to tell a story that can’t be told through an application mostly concerned with income numbers and statistics. Many top colleges require interviews for prospective students to get a better sense of their personality and character, so there’s certainly potential for financial aid officers to do the same in order to obtain a greater understanding of their students’ financial needs.

That’s especially pertinent given financial aid packages remain constant throughout the year, whereas financial situations don’t.

Jason de Leon, a first-year political science student, said the UC should interview students and their families about their financial situations to distribute the appropriate amount of aid.

“I think it can help them set up a more complete portfolio of the student’s financial situation and needs rather than just going off their tax information,” de Leon said.

That’s not to say the UC doesn’t provide aid to students – this is in no way a criticism of the reach of its financial aid programs. Rather, the hard truth is the aid the University provides is not enough.

The UC needs to walk a mile in the shoes of its economically disadvantaged students to understand the types of situations they come from and provide them more financial support in their pursuit of higher education.

Until then, those students will be forced to fight an uphill battle both in and out of college.

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EJ Panaligan | Opinion editor
Panaligan is the Opinion editor for the Daily Bruin and hails from Carson, California. He was previously an Opinion columnist in 2018-19 and an assistant Opinion editor in 2019-20 and wrote about higher education and student life issues. He also contributes to the Arts and Entertainment section and has a fervent love for the Los Angeles-based sister band Haim.
Panaligan is the Opinion editor for the Daily Bruin and hails from Carson, California. He was previously an Opinion columnist in 2018-19 and an assistant Opinion editor in 2019-20 and wrote about higher education and student life issues. He also contributes to the Arts and Entertainment section and has a fervent love for the Los Angeles-based sister band Haim.
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