Tuition takes its toll

As the economy goes down, student fees for California college students go up

Because she doesn’t qualify for financial aid, Sacramento State student Ashley Andreoni is concerned her education may be in jeopardy.

Because she doesn’t qualify for financial aid, Sacramento State student Ashley Andreoni is concerned her education may be in jeopardy.

Photo by david Jayne

With the recession creeping into dorm rooms like a bad case of foot fungus, local college students are feeling the repercussions of the state budget crisis, most noticeably in their wallets. In the face of cratering state revenue, California’s university systems are cutting their budgets substantially, reducing classes and services offered to students even as the University of California and California State University contemplate hiking enrollment fees by 10 percent.

While many colleges and universities are doing their best to provide additional financial aid to its low-income students, their goodwill is simply no match for demand that continues to rise steadily. It’s the students who do not qualify for financial aid that are feeling the pinch from state-mandated fee increases and enrollment cuts the most.

One local student feeling the pinch, Ashley Andreoni, an English major at Sacramento State, has had enough of it.

“I’ve applied for financial aid every single year since I began college, and every single year, I’ve been declined,” she said, adding that she was forced to withdraw from San Francisco State because of financial difficulties. “I loved going to San Francisco State, it was awesome, but it got to the point where living expenses and tuition were way beyond my parents’ means, so I was forced to move back to Sacramento.”

According to the California Student Aid Commission, there has been an 11 percent increase in financial aid in the form of grants (Cal Grants, Chafee and Pell, which, unlike loans, do not need to be repaid) since last year alone. However, it’s important to stay on the ball, says Juan Flores, counselor and coordinator of the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services at Folsom Lake Community College, a member of the Los Rios Community College District.

“It’s just a matter of going out to the campuses and doing your research,” he said. “If there’s someone out there who wants to go to college and has something in their way or can’t take a huge financial burden, we’re here to help them directly and minimize those costs.”

There are several options available for students, if they act quickly. Qualifying for aid can be just a matter of getting together the previous year’s tax documents and submitting them as soon as possible—funds for state and federal aid run out quickly. If an individual does not qualify for grants and other income-based financial aid or has a high amount of personal debt, it’s still possible to defer payment of student loans until after graduation.

However, unless the federal government provides adequate funding, the UC and the CSU systems will take a huge financial hit. The UC’s budget is being downsized by $692 million, the CSU’s by 10 percent. Some of these cuts are being passed on directly to students in the form of increased tuition. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is calling for a 10 percent increase in student fees for CSU undergrads and 9.3 percent for those in the UC system. The fee increases will bring in a combined $300 million in revenue.

To add insult to injury, many schools are being forced to not only raise fees, but reduce enrollment numbers, making the college-application process more competitive than ever. The Regents of the University of California have announced a 6 percent reduction in enrollment. The CSU system is planning on decreasing its enrollment to 10,000 full-time students statewide, its first enrollment cut in almost 20 years.

“It’s unfortunate, really,” Andreoni said. “The CSU system is supposed to be one that’s widely affordable for everyone, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, especially for those of us that are just above the eligibility requirements for aid. And because of the reductions that result in larger class sizes, I’m having to graduate later than I planned because I simply can’t get the classes I need.”

Andreoni isn’t the only one who’s fed up. As an active member of the CSUS Students for Social Change, she and scores of other local college students demonstrated against the budget cuts and fee hikes on March 16 at the Capitol.

For students depending on grants and loans to attend college, it may be too little too late. As the economy continues to spiral downward, state officials are becoming increasingly concerned about next year’s education budget. Although the governor has included $185 million in the California Community Colleges budget to allow for 3 percent enrollment growth, the colleges won’t know exactly how programs such as EOPS that assist low-income students will fare until August or September, when community-college budgets are finalized.