The rise of housing costs for students of CSUSB is one of the factors leading to a higher rate of homelessness for students here, commented Madeline Zhuo, an employee at a food pantry, in response to the topics raised by the rally in Sacramento.
On Feb. 20 student leaders, college executives, and legislators rallied at the state capital for financial aid reform to combat food insecurity, lack of shelter, and wellbeing issues that plague California college students.
Mia Kagianas, president of the Cal State Student Association, struck at the heart of the issue during her opening remarks.
“Our state and our nation are experiencing a higher education renaissance,” Kagianas said. “Issues such as affordability, disproportionate gaps in achievement, and student wellbeing are no longer isolated and immersing, they are expansive and consequential.”
Kagianas continued to highlight the problems facing students and the solution.
“Homelessness, food insecurity, and wellbeing challenges are no hyperbole, they are a reality of the affordability challenges our students have,” Kagianas said. “Fixing financial aid for all students is the solution to help our students succeed in all aspects of our institutions across the state.”
Mia Kagianas, President of the Cal State Student Association and Sac State Student discusses why she felt she needed to get involved in fixing the financial aid system for California students @TheStateHornet pic.twitter.com/VsN04sMrex
— Jonathan Nack (@jonathanjnack) February 20, 2019
The number of students impacted by this is alarmingly high, with 41.6 percent of CSU students reporting food insecurity, and almost 11 percent reported being homeless according to a 2018 study of basic needs published by the California State University.
The report included a heat map of areas worst affected, and CSUSB’s region was one of a handful where homelessness was found to be most prevalent.
[su_quote cite=”Madeline Zhuo”]We have housing students who come’ since they forced all of us to do a meal plan, all of our costs have jumped up. Not only the housing plans jumped up like $200, but the forced meal plan also made us jump up I think over $1000.[/su_quote]
While Zhuo claimed that the forced meal plan will be ending next year, it is still a hindrance to students now, especially considering the high cost and unhealthiness of much of the on-campus food that leads to the meal plan not being very effective.
“A lot of people left in winter because of that,” Zhuo said.
Food insecurity, besides depriving a student of their basic needs, also interferes with their ability to succeed as a student.
“It affects students emotionally, and when you’re hungry your concentration is not enough,” Elvia Gallo, another employee at the Obershaw DEN, said. “There’s the statistic that shows that when you’re stomach is full your mind works better.”
Gallo noted that the DEN, sees a large increase in people seeking food during midterms and especially finals, showing how important having enough food is for students to pass their classes.
“I think, as students, we can all relate and say that academic life is stressful enough already,” Zhuo said. “Having to worry about food is also just another thing to just take on stress.”
According to the DEN, the vast majority of students at CSUSB are commuters, adding transportation costs and increased pressures for students here.
The Obershaw DEN is a resource for any student who is insecure about their food or shelter. Once a week, students can get free food, fresh produce, hygiene products, resources to help them improve their situation, and special considerations can also be made depending on the individual case.
The Coyote CARE Team is also another resource for students currently in need of help; students can contact them for themselves or report other students in need to them.
— Jonathan Nack (@jonathanjnack) February 20, 2019
Currently, Cal Grant can cover the total cost of tuition minus summer, but Eloy Oakley, chancellor of the California community colleges, explained to the crowd at the rally why this was not enough.
“We must do more to improve financial aid opportunities for our students because the total cost of attendance for California community colleges is much more than tuition that is the barrier for our students,” Oakley said. “Housing, textbooks, and other expenses can add up to an obscene $19,000 a year, and our students access very little Cal Grant aid today.”
Even with tuition covered, current financial aid is unable to cover all the requirements of paying for a college education. This severely limits not only how students can make academic accomplishments but also who can afford to attend college in California.
The current system in place does not do enough to help students truly succeed at college, according to Assemblymember Jose Medina, chair of the Assembly Committee on Higher Education.
[su_quote cite=”Assemblymember Jose Medina”]Student voices came out loud and clear to tell of that the financial aid system currently in place is outdated, overcomplex, and really doesn’t serve the needs of California students.[/su_quote]
Assemblymember Medina announced that he is going to be using his position to fight to fix financial aid.
“I am proud to be working with my colleague, Assemblymember Kevin Mccarty, on legislation to completely reform the Cal Grant program,” Assemblymember Medina said. “We need to make sure that the Cal Grant covers not just tuition cost, but transportation, housing, the cost of books, things that are sometimes the major cost of attending higher education.”
Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel was also present at the rally and spoke on the bill he introduced: AB542, to expand the competitive Cal Grant system to provide more financial aid to students in need. Assemblymember Gabriel also summed up the argument the rally presented.
[su_quote cite=”Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel”]Public higher education is an incredible investment for the state of California. It has a huge return on investment; investing in young people is investing in our economy, investing in our future, and investing in the future possibilities of this state, so it is clear to me that California needs to increase its investment in public higher education.”[/su_quote]