UC Student Association, Institute for College Access and Success address need to expand financial aid

Bar graph showing racial and income disparities in student debt
Ariel Lung/Staff

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The UC Student Association, or UCSA, and The Institute for College Access and Success, or TICAS, released a report examining the burden of student debt across the UC system for the year of 2017-18, according to a UCSA press release sent out March 21.

The report compared student debt across the different UC campuses and across different demographic groups within the system. The study found that student debt is disproportionately borne by students of color and low-income students. In establishing this finding, the study collected data on a wide variety of factors, including average debt across the UC campuses, average debt by income group and average debt by race and ethnicity.

“Previous data we’ve seen has shown that lower income students are more likely to borrow than their wealthier peers, and we wanted to dig deeper into this troubling trend,” said TICAS Associate California Program Director and author of the report Laura Szabo-Kubitz in an email. “While about half of all BA graduates borrowed, two-thirds of African-American and Latino graduates did compared to 40 percent of their White peers.”

The study stated that every campus “tells its own story.” Graduate borrowing rates vary drastically across different campuses, with the share of students with debt ranging from 34 percent at UC Berkeley to 71 percent at UC Merced. Comparing expenses across each UC campus, the study took these systemwide differences into account while establishing recommendations for improvement.

According to the report, the UC system’s financial aid strategy, called the Education Financing Model, incorporates federal, state and institutional aid, “creating reasonable financial expectations for students and families.” Although this model, which is applied to the UC system, has garnered merit, the study sets a goal of reducing disparities in student debt and graduation rates among disadvantaged groups through a more effective implementation of financial aid by identifying gaps in the Cal Grant program. According to the study, the Cal Grant program serves many students with high financial need but still fails to allot the grant to many eligible recipients because of a lack of resources.

“UCSA plans to use (the report) in conversations with legislators and UC for extra funding to students of color on campuses,” said President of UCSA Caroline Siegel Singh.

The conclusion highlights the areas of improvement, emphasizing that too many low- and middle-income students face “untenable” expenses, including nontuition costs.

The study says these students who normally have to sacrifice their studies for work should be relieved of this burden through the strengthening of state-based aid for nontuition costs.

“Every year, hundreds of thousands of eligible applicants don’t get a state Cal Grant because not enough awards are available,” Szabo-Kubitz said in an email. “To address that, California can increase the number of available competitive Cal Grants and the size of the Cal Grant B access award.”

Contact Sasha Langholz at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LangholzSasha‏.