UC Berkeley student struggles to pay tuition, faces homelessness

Zainab Ali/Senior Staff

Noemi “Mimi” Elias is a rising senior at UC Berkeley majoring in social welfare, who hopes to be an immigration lawyer and eventually a pilot. But these plans may be called into question as she struggles to pay her tuition.

On July 18, UC Berkeley announced a new nonpayment cancellation policy for the fall semester: If students are unable to pay 20 percent of tuition and fees by the Friday before classes start, their enrollment will be canceled.

“We’re not going to keep getting pushed into the margins,” Elias said. “(The new policy) is ridiculous — we don’t have that type of social capital and capital in general.”

On Wednesday, Elias started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $3,674 in order to cover her tuition and fees as she awaits the status of her financial aid.

Juggling two jobs, Elias doesn’t know if she will be able to cover her rent in the Bay Area. Currently she is living with her sister, who will move away in a couple of months. When that happens, Elias may end up homeless.

In the past, Elias had successfully filed as an independent in her financial aid and received aid from UC Berkeley. But with the recent move of the financial aid system from MyFinAid to CalCentral, her independence appeal for this year was lost and her financial aid application was rejected.

For many in-state students like Elias, the 20 percent payment is about $1,350, while out-of-state students will be billed about $4,000.

According to ASUC Student Advocate Selina Lao, the campus aims to determine which students were experiencing financial difficulties before Aug. 22 — the day unpaid enrollments are scheduled to be dropped — through a review conducted by Cal Student Central staff and the campus Financial Aid and Scholarship Office.

If the review finds that a student is unable to pay fees before the August deadline because of financial aid reasons, the student will be protected from the policy change.

The new policy was implemented to help students enroll in classes that may have been occupied by students who did not end up enrolling but took up spots in the class. Adam Ratliff, campus communications manager for student affairs, said the new policy is intended to help students finalize courses earlier so they can focus on academics.

Lao added that the recent migration of financial aid to CalCentral was done to consolidate multiple platforms and prevent loss of information.

The Financial Aid and Scholarships Office will also offer short-term emergency loans to students in order to account for sudden or unanticipated changes in their ability to pay tuition and fees. Emergency loans, however, are capped at $1,360.

Elias was told by the financial aid office to file for aid under her mother’s name and did so, but that application too was rejected. Elias is worried about whether she will be able to get or receive her financial aid package in time for the new payment deadline.

“I went to six different high schools and I didn’t have any guidance on going to college. I’m tired of having to suffer all the time,” Elias said. “I want to go to school and give back in any way I can to the community that has been there for me or anyone who’s been in my situation. At the end of the day, all I want is for people around me to not suffer anymore and for the world to not suffer as much.”

Elias is not receiving support from her family. She last saw her father seven years ago while he was in jail. Her mother is undocumented, sick and lives in Illinois — she does not have job security.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to attend class, and I don’t know where I’m going to live,” Elias said. “I really can’t afford to live anywhere near Berkeley.”

Taylor Harvey, co-founder of the campus Homeless Student Union, said she personally knows many students at UC Berkeley who face homelessness, adding that even students who receive full financial aid have difficulty with housing. She estimated that students receiving the full financial aid package will still face a $100 to $200 gap and that the package may not provide for meals and textbooks.

“I just hope to graduate. I didn’t think I’d make it to my high school graduation because I was going through a lot then,” Elias said. “The future looks bright even though I’m struggling right now, but it’ll be OK.”

Contact Lillian Dong at [email protected].