Survey reflects CA college students struggling with cost, work responsibility

infographic depicting statistics about obstacles to student success
Connor Lin/Staff

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The Student Expenses and Resources Survey, or SEARS, from the California Student Aid Commission, or CSAC, reported that 64 percent of students enrolled in California colleges cite “cost of college” or “balancing school and work responsibilities” as obstacles to their success.

SEARS sampled over 15,000 students, 10 percent of whom attend schools in the UC system. Thirty-three percent of students believe the cost of college is the greatest impediment to their success, and 31 percent believe balancing school and work responsibilities is their largest obstacle, according to the survey. Additionally, 35 percent of the students surveyed experienced food insecurity within the past month, and 33 percent of the students surveyed experienced housing insecurity in the past month.

Schools within the UC system have historically faced the issues of housing and food insecurity. According to a basic needs report for the UC system released in December 2017, 44 percent of undergraduate and 26 percent of graduate students reported having experienced food insecurity. Five percent of undergraduate and graduate students have faced homelessness at some point during their UC enrollment.

“We are committed to keeping costs like food and housing as low as possible, as part of the broader campus objective of keeping the cost of a Berkeley education affordable,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof in an email. “The University offers several resources specific to food or housing security, including: financial aid and counseling; financial literacy workshops; the Food Assistance Program; and emergency food resources like the UC Berkeley Food Pantry and the Bear Pantry.”

The UC Berkeley Food Pantry provides emergency food assistance to any student, staff or faculty member. The pantry also launched an app in July for Android that features a live inventory, notifications for restocks and up-to-date opening and closing hours.

Stella Zhu, the UC Berkeley Food Pantry coordinator, told The Daily Californian in May that 22,000 people visit the food pantry annually, and 1,000 people visit it weekly.

Food and housing insecurity disproportionately affects students of color, according to the survey. Fifty-two percent of Black students receiving Pell or Cal Grant aid indicated housing insecurity, and 45 percent reported food insecurity. Students with dependents and students older than the age of 25 also faced higher levels of housing insecurity, higher expenses and feel less equipped to pay for college, according to the survey.

Mogulof added that financing an education is especially difficult given UC Berkeley’s location in the San Francisco Bay Area.

According to a press release from CSAC, it plans to use the survey results to develop a new expense budget for students in determining Cal Grant and other state financial aid eligibility.

“Far too many students do not have the financial means to cover the real costs of college, nor do they have access to sufficient aid,” said Marlene Garcia, executive director of CSAC, in a press release. “This is unacceptable, and we must address these direct needs immediately.”

Megha Krishnan is a business and economy reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @_meghakrishnan_.