Student loan debt burden not spread equally across UC campuses, according to UCSA research

A report compiled by the University of California Student Association (UCSA) and The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) states that student loan debt burden is spread unevenly amongst UC undergraduates. The research shows that lower income students and underrepresented students of color are more likely to carry student loan debt after graduation.   

The report states that 56 percent of UC undergraduates do not pay any tuition and that the UC system’s average debt total of $21,018 is less than the national student debt of $30,100; however, undergraduate students encounter problems with expenses outside of tuition.

In an interview with the Highlander, UC Riverside’s Director of Financial Aid Jose Aguilar stated, “We take into account the whole cost of attendance; we don’t just award financial aid based on tuition. We look at room and board, tuition and fees, books and supplies, personal expenses, and transportation expenses. Those are the five items that we include as the total cost of attendance.” According to Aguilar, the Financial Aid office calculates the total cost of attendance minus the family contribution and the amount of financial aid given to a student is based off of that calculation.

Aguilar finds that some UCR students tend to avoid any financial assistance: “We do have a student population averse to student borrowing,” he said. “They may not be getting the family contribution, or parents are not willing to help the students, and then they may need to find other resources. Or there may be students who do not want to borrow; we have a lot of students on our campus not willing to borrow, and that makes sense, I agree with that.”

He later pointed out that the office intends for their financial plans to be as affordable as possible: “The financial aid package is specifically for low income students. If you are a middle income student and you have a small or decent financial aid package with an expected large family contribution but your family is not willing to help or can’t help for whatever reasons then students may be forced to look into other options like maintaining employment.”

However, despite the help the Financial Aid office provides, some students with financial support from their family still struggle with financial aid. Transfer student Aaron Randall Gregory said to the Highlander, “I have a bunch of friends that are in what we call the ‘dark zone of financial aid:’ your parents have enough money to not be eligible for financial aid but you’re still too poor to pay for everything. I think that is the biggest issue and one of the many reasons people don’t go to college. They fall into this dark zone: they are poor but not poor enough.” Gregory is a chemistry major who receives help from financial aid and is in this “dark zone” himself. “So, as a transfer student, I fend for myself,” he said. “Financial aid like FAFSA and whatever grants UCR gives out have been my primary source of income.”

Aguilar believes that the strength of the family determines the amount of student debt a student incurs, “I see the strength of the family income and the philosophy behind it. If parents are willing or not willing to help the student, that’s what drives a student to either borrow money or get another job.” Aguilar does not believe that race is driving student loan debt; according to the report, two out of three dependent African American and Chicano/Latino bachelor’s degree recipients in 2017-18 graduated with student loan debt.

Yusra Siddique, a junior Political Science major, did not agree with Aguilar on if or why race influences the action students take for financing college. “I find that what he said is blatantly ignorant. If Mr. Aguilar were to sit down with students and actually got to know what they are going through, he would know how difficult it is; I think he comes from a place of privilege. Race is a huge issue. It is still an issue. The fact that he is saying otherwise is ignorant and bigoted.”

Vice Chair of the Student Services Fee Advisory Committee (SSFAC) Lennin Kuri praised Aguilar but disagreed with his comments, “I feel that it (race) is interconnected within the UCs and with all educational institutions across California. I have met Jose personally; he’s really amazing. Campus aid or financial aid for cost of attending the university still does not equalize everyone’s background socioeconomically or racially.” In the interview, Kuri said that the UCs try to create the impression that everything is equal and he himself does not believe that each student has equal circumstances. He believes that the racial component, along with the type of students supported in the UC system, plays a large role in student debt.

The report itself concludes with solutions to reduce student loan debt on UC campuses. According to the report, the UCSA is attempting to provide more need based aid for non-tuition expenses. The Student Senate for California Community Colleges (SSCCC) and the Cal State Student Association (CSSA) are working with the UCSA on this plan. A boost in Cal Grant coverage can mitigate non-tuition costs for lower income students, according to the report.

Aguilar stresses the importance of scholarships; “If a student receives a scholarship, we reduce the loan and work portion before reducing any grants that the student receives.” Ultimately, Aguilar claims more scholarships provided to students can counteract student loan debt issues that students face.

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