Joshua Wang / The Highlander

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, college students have found themselves on the short end of the stick, from not being eligible to receive stimulus checks at the start of the pandemic to having to endure learning over Zoom. Any college student will tell you that the past two years have been a chaotic mess. These issues don’t even start to graze the numerous other personal issues that students have had to deal with, from mental health to food insecurity to family safety. Regardless of the issue, for many students the most practical answer was to take a break from education altogether. Now, the very same students find themselves stuck with surprising debt to their community colleges & public universities. Low-income students who had no other option than to take a break from higher education now find themselves outcast from the system all together. These students deserve a second chance at receiving a higher education and to have their voices heard. 

When students had no other option than to drop out in the middle of the school year at the start of the pandemic, their financial aid awards became institutional debts. Some California community colleges and California State Universities wisely decided to cancel these debts. But most, including the University of California, publicly announced that students would be banned from re-enrolling until the debts had been paid off. Some universities even sent debt collectors after these students. 

Most, if not all, low-income students in California receive some form of grant money when they enroll into a community college or public university. These grants are distributed to universities and are commonly used to pay for a student’s tuition or room and  board fees. If a student withdraws from the university after a month of classes, the university is expected to pay the remaining grant amount back to the government. During the pandemic, it was reported that these reversed financial aid awards were the biggest source of institutional debt. It is estimated that 750,000 students in community colleges, CSUs and UCs will have incurred institutional student debts worth about $390 million from July 2020 through June 2022. 

Furthermore, because debts are owed to the schools, they often don’t come with flexible repayment plans. These students have been tossed aside by the same institutions they entrusted would provide them with a higher education. The worst part is that many people don’t know this type of debt even exists. Spreading awareness about this situation benefits everyone involved and ensures low-income students won’t fall for the same traps in the future. California lawmakers need to advocate for these students across the state. Large educational institutions should not be allowed to suffocate these students.