Guess Commentary: Students Facing Financial Struggles

The University of California is facing an affordability crisis right now. The increases in student fees, decreases in financial aid and increases in the cost of housing, textbooks and transportation are threatening the vibrancy of student life and student academic achievements on campus.

Students are expected to work long hours in addition to schoolwork to help finance their educations. Many undergraduate students are currently graduating with over $20,000 in debt in order to finance their educations, due to rising costs. This amount does not even include the money that middle-income parents are forced to take out in loans to cover their portion of the cost of education for their students at the university.

Undergraduate student fees have more than doubled over the past four years. A student who entered as a first year in 2002 was paying $2,851 in systemwide fees. When the same student graduates this year, they will be paying $5,406. This doesn’t even take into consideration campus-based fees or the costs of mandatory health insurance. Graduate students’ fees have increased by more than 80 percent in the same time period. And professional school students are paying anywhere from 69 percent to 130 percent more than they were when they started school. It’s time for the state Legislature, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the UC regents to listen to what students are saying and realize that they are jeopardizing the quality of the university by threatening the access and affordability of the University of California for California families.

The total cost of education at the University of California (including fees, rent, textbooks, etc.) is the second highest of all four-year public universities in the country. While our fees are increasing, our student services are being eliminated — services that used to be free are now costing students extra money. Students are being forced to take on more debt than they ever had before. With the cuts to federal financial aid programs, those loans are becoming more expensive to pay back than ever. Parents are also expected to take on an unmanageable amount of debt.

Next year, even though students were victorious in securing a fee freeze, the UC administration is planning on increasing students’ contribution to the cost of their education by $335. This means that students will have to find four to five more hours every week to work, or will have to take out that much more in loans. This is the affordability crisis, and it’s up to all of us to ensure California’s place as an economic engine and a leader in opportunity for all of our people. We need higher education to be affordable and accessible for everyone.

Right now the UC Students Association has a resolution in the state Legislature that calls on our political leaders to think about long-term solutions to the affordability crisis. We need a fee policy that’s based on what families can afford to pay, not on the state budget. We need a financial aid policy that meets all of a student’s need and a work/loan burden that is manageable and doesn’t require students to struggle to get through school. The state of California needs to make a commitment to the institutions of higher education. We all need to ensure that the people we are educating are reflective of the people paying for these institutions: the public. We need strong leaders in state government who can take a stand and fight for higher education.

— Anu Joshi

President, University of California

Students Association