For low-income students, choosing the right college or university is often decided by how much money they will give us. We do not have the luxury of choosing a university in a favorable location or by enrollment size. Some of us can’t even choose the one that offers the best program for our major because it doesn’t grant us enough funding. We, low-income students, are faced with limitations when it comes to going to college.
And yes, scholarships are available, and their abundance does inspire us to apply to as many as possible. However, their competitive nature means not all students will receive a scholarship and therefore we cannot rely just on them. In other words, we need our government to keep funding education access for low-income students. Opportunities that come with programs like the Pell Grant.
What is the Pell Grant exactly?
The Pell Grant is a need-based grant awarded to undergraduate students who have not obtained a degree and demonstrate exceptional financial need. It has provided support for about 7 million students each year across 5,000 institutions in the U.S. However, its purchasing power has declined significantly over time. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the Pell Grant only covers 30% of a college education when it covered about 80% in 1980.
As a Oaxacan low-income student raised in South Central LA and a personal recipient of the Pell Grant, I can vouch that receiving this aid was a significant help for covering my tuition at UC Berkeley during my first two years of college. I felt supported by this assistance and received an additional refund to cover my basic needs like food and housing. However, after my sophomore year, I noticed that my Pell Grant amount was declining as I reached senior year.
This is why we need to build awareness to #DoublePell because it can close the affordability gap for low-income students, leading to higher enrollment and an increase in retention rates. Education Policy Advisor Shelbe Klebs argues that the COVID-19 pandemic has made many students “rethink their post-secondary plans for fall; some may forgo college temporarily or permanently to work to support their families while others may choose to attend a more affordable community college close to home instead of a pricier four-year school farther away.”
Doubling the Pell Grant is the most effective way to make college affordable and available for all students. It can lead to more enrollment of low-income students of color, increase graduate school enrollments with more students pursuing higher education, decrease dropout rates, and restore its purchasing power.
Having this grant available made my college selection process easier because I could choose a good school with the financial aid package that was right for me. I am #ThankfulForPell because I was able to graduate from a 4-year university. By doubling the Pell Grant, I believe more students like me can have greater access to higher education, reach their potential and empower their communities.
By Changemakers Student Advocacy Fellow Veronica Liu
College: University of California, San Diego
For California Community College students, community college is a time to explore passions and potentially save money compared to immediately attending a 4-year university. For those hoping to transfer into 4-year colleges, the challenges of paying application fees, writing essays, and applying without support can be daunting as they navigate the application process. But, for the nearly 69,000 California community college students enrolled in Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS), matriculating at a community college and applying to 4-years is not a challenge they must face alone.
Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) is a state-funded opportunity program at California Community Colleges aimed at supporting low-income and educationally-disadvantaged students to enroll in and graduate from community colleges and transfer into 4-year institutions. Established in 1969, the California Education Code states that EOPS “encourage[s] local community colleges to establish and implement programs directed to identifying those students affected by language, social, and economic handicaps, to increase the number of eligible EOPS students served, and to assist those students to achieve their educational objectives and goals, including, but not necessarily limited to, obtaining job skills, occupational certificates, or associate degrees, and transferring to four-year institutions.” EOPS was designed with disadvantaged students’ successes in mind.
My fellow Changemakers student advocate, Jessica Hernandez-Beltran, expands on her experience as a community college student in EOPS. She credits EOPS for her successful transfer path, thanks to the program’s financial assistance for textbooks and support with transfer applications.
Through providing resources like textbook reimbursements/free textbooks, advising, and more, EOPS has provided students with the support and guidance needed to excel in community college, empowering students to transfer. Although EOPS students are more likely to complete transfer-level Math and English, earn higher GPAs, stay in school, and earn college credentials, EOPS only supports around 3.71% of the total community college student population–a discrepancy that does not mirror the demographics and eligibility of community college students state-wide. Think about it: how many people do you know qualify for EOPS? Who identifies as low-income, underrepresented, California resident, with Pell Grant eligibility? California is the top state in the U.S. for the most Pell Grant recipients–938,931 college students in CA qualify for the Pell Grant, including around 420,000 students across the 116 CCC campuses, a drastic contrast to the nearly 69,000 students enrolled in EOPS in Community College. Think how many folks you may know that qualify–only around 3-4% of them may be in EOPS, while others are shut out due to insufficient funding.
Funding has always been key in allowing more students to enroll in EOPS and set themselves up for success in college. In 2015, Assembly Bill 490, which increased funding for EOPS, stated that “inadequate state funding in recent years has caused many EOPS and CARE programs to reduce the amount of financial aid, textbook support, and child care grants provided to eligible students in need, to prematurely close the application deadline for acceptance to the program, to deny program services to eligible EOPS and CARE students, or to do a combination of these.” Seven years later, it seems that much still has to be improved upon, especially in regard to funding.
If you would like to show your support, please sign our letter (Deadline to sign on: November 30, 2022) and learn more about our advocacy through the link below:
Sign on here!: https://tinyurl.com/EOPSFunding22
By Let’s Go Basic Needs Fellow: Julianne Jamir
College: University of California San Diego
Housing insecurity and homelessness amongst college students are more prevalent than ever. According to the 2019 #RealCollege annual survey conducted by The Hope Center for California Community Colleges, 60% of community college students experience housing insecurity and 19% experience homelessness. At the University of California 16% of students experience housing insecurity and 5% experience homelessness. In the case of Cal State University students, the 2018 CSU Basic Needs Study found that 10.9% of students experience homelessness. This is an absurd amount; however, since housing insecurity and homelessness can manifest in many ways, it is possible that a percentage of college students did not participate in these studies because they were unaware that they experienced housing insecurity.
Most California colleges only guarantee on-campus housing for the first two years, which means that all students have to seek off-campus housing at some point. Some students start even earlier because on-campus housing is unaffordable, especially for low-income students and undocumented students. That being said, the most common causes of housing insecurity and homelessness amongst college students are the impractical requirements that landlords demand and the affordability of rent.
First, the majority of off-campus housing apartments require renters to have a credit score of at least 650 or higher but in order to be approved for a credit card, a reliable source of income plays a huge role. This requirement is impractical considering that most students would have just started working and building their credit scores at this time. Additionally, landlords require proof of income that is double and sometimes even triple the amount of rent. College students tend to work part-time, minimum-wage jobs because of their hectic schedules or lack of experience.
These requirements present unnecessary challenges that set up students to fail in securing stable housing throughout their time in college. The second reason why housing insecurity and homelessness is prevalent amongst college students is the affordability of rent. This is dependent on location but because of rising living costs and prices in California, most colleges are considered unaffordable.
For example, the University of California San Diego is located in La Jolla, which is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in San Diego. To offer a better picture, a single bedroom apartment in La Jolla usually ranges from $2000-$3000, not including utilities and other bills students would have to pay monthly, which average around $100 depending on usage.
This forces students to choose between staying with their families, where they may be unable to focus on their studies (true with most low-income first generation students) or living with multiple roommates, of which some might reside in the living room. These options are used to alleviate the burden of monthly expenses; however, they are not always sustainable. These barriers prove how difficult it is for students to get safe and secure housing.
Overall, I believe that we as a community and the people in power need to do a better job with resolving these issues. No one should ever have to experience being housing insecure and/or homeless. All public institutions in California should increase affordable and guaranteed housing for students, especially for low-income and undocumented students.
By doing so, it would not just help college students to get stable housing, it would also help when it comes to decreasing students’ list of worries so that they have more time to focus on getting their degree. Students would not have to worry so much about how they would pay rent and would actually have extra money for other basic necessities, such as food. As we know, food insecurity is highly likely to occur simultaneously with housing insecurity and homelesness. This prevents students from being in a position where they would have to choose whether to prioritize food over rent or vice versa.
By Let’s Go Basic Needs Fellow: Krystal Mae Raynes
College: Cal State University Bakersfield
In many parts of Bakersfield, we see homeless people push shopping carts and hold cardboard signs on street medians. Sometimes, we assume that these people have made bad decisions in their life and that their living situation is their fault. This image and assumption are what many people think of when talking about the topic of homelessness. However, homelessness has many faces; and today, many of them are college students, like me.
College homelessness looks different from the textbook example we usually think of. College students usually experience homelessness when they find themselves sleeping in their cars or “couch surfing” – borrowing friends’ or families’ extra futons or couches for a week or two and then having to find another place to stay at. Both these situations fall under the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of homelessness, which includes “youth who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence”. Dr. Jason Watkins, Assistant Director of Basic Needs for California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB), describes student homelessness as “not making bad choices,” but as “a set of bad circumstances.”
Many college students in Bakersfield are first-generation or low-income – 65% CSUB students and 55% of Bakersfield College undergraduate students are on Pell Grant, a federal grant awarded to students who display exceptional financial need. According to a survey conducted by CSUB’s division of Student Affairs during the winter of 2020, about 7% of students – or approximately 770 students – faced homelessness. I am one of those students. As a CSUB student who has couch-surfed more than a few times during her college career, Dr. Watkin’s statements ring true with me. My first run-in with homelessness began because of an abusive household situation, and it took a few tries to get permanent housing. In the summer of 2020, I had to utilize CSUB’s emergency housing program for a month to get back on my feet. That time was absolutely critical to get me connected to the on-campus food pantry, mental health services, and fixed housing. Without it, I most likely would have had to drop out of school and delay my degree. In Dr. Watkins’ experience, the causes of homelessness in students are usually caused by instability in the home due to abuse or sudden changes to roommates’ contributions to rent. Dr. Watkins recalled an instance where a student had to utilize CSUB’s emergency housing because all of his roommates decided to move back home during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving him without a means to pay a full bill of rent.
Although CSUB provides emergency housing and a meal plan for up to 30 days in their dormitories, students with families or pets fall through the cracks. In the short term, CSUB is looking to expand its hotel voucher program for students that wouldn’t be able to stay in the residence halls. The most important solution is within the community. Bakersfield residents can donate to CSUB’s emergency fund but most importantly, they can choose to support more affordable housing for college students.
If students drop out due to homelessness, we lose on shared prosperity for our region. An economic impact report generated by the California State University system cited that in 2019, San Joaquin Valley CSU alumni generated $521 million in state and local tax revenue. When homelessness affects our students due to circumstances out of their control, it becomes our community’s loss. We need to understand the value of investing in affordable housing for our students, the majority of whom stay in Bakersfield and contribute to our growing economy.