With rising tuition costs, students are facing tough financial decisions in order to maintain a UC education. For some students, the rising cost of tuition can even mean forgoing housing and daily meals in order to study at UC Davis.
While a majority of the student population can afford to pay student fees, rent and everyday necessities with scholarships and loans, there is a minority of UC Davis students opting to struggle now without loans, in order to avoid paying back thousands of dollars after graduation.
“I haven’t wanted to take out any loans, because I’ve always been against that. I feel like if I don’t have to right now, then I shouldn’t. I would rather be homeless than taking out loans from the banks. I’d rather be struggling a little bit, than having to struggle a lot later,” said Sarena Grossjan, a sophomore art studio major and current homeless student.
During her first year at UC Davis, Grossjan was able to live in the dorms with the dining commons meal plan thanks to scholarships and grants she received from the financial aid office.
However, this year has been quite different. After Grossjan paid her tuition fees, she was left with only $1,000 for housing, food and books. Grossjan has been living off of the kindness of friends, with some stays at the Occupy Central Park and the Domes. She is currently couch surfing again, since even the rent at the Domes was too much.
“I never really classified this as homeless, because anywhere I go I’m home,” Grossjan said. “Like, if I have stuff I need, and if I have a place to sleep and food, I’m fine.”
During the Occupy Davis movement, Grossjan was living in tents at Central Park while attending school.
“I was kind of shocked when I would come and study. It would be freezing cold at night and there would be no lights, so we wouldn’t study at Central Park,” she said.
Instead, Grossjan and another homeless student would wake up early and seek out open buildings on campus to study, away from the cold weather.
“We were kicked out of buildings because we looked homeless,” Grossjan said. “This lady came up to us in Hunt [Hall], and she asked us if we slept in the building. We said no, we just came to study, and they accused us of sleeping in the building and kicked us out. I just couldn’t believe that even with our student IDs they just didn’t want us there. It felt really horrible.”
Judith La Deaux, the student affairs officer in the Native American studies department, has encountered other students facing similar situations as Grossjan.
“It’s a problem I’m quite concerned about,” La Deaux said.
Even for students who aren’t homeless, the rising cost of a UC education is becoming more difficult to sustain, Grossjan said.
“A lot of students who have jobs are living paycheck to paycheck, which is just as hard,” she said. “Having to always work and be in school and then only having enough for rent and food — it’s hard for a lot of people.”
Resources such as The Pantry and We Are Aggie Pride are designed to help struggling students.
The Pantry was created Winter Quarter 2011, after a survey revealed that some students skipped meals because of financial reasons. The Pantry provides students with basic essentials like food and sanitary supplies, and it is completely anonymous.
“The main goal of The Pantry is to ensure that no student ever has to skip a meal for financial reasons. The Pantry is a resource offered to students, and is our response to the greater need created by the economic downturn and rising tuition prices over the past few years,” said senior human development major and Pantry Director Rosa Gonzalez.
In addition, We Are Aggie Pride is a student-run program with the motto “Students helping students.” The program provides emergency funding to students to cover food, rent and other essential costs not covered by other programs, in order to give a temporary boost to those who are trying to make it on their own.
“The purpose of [We Are Aggie Pride] is to help students in emergency situations. When you’re in an emergency, you don’t always have the right resources, and We Are Aggie Pride is there to step in and help students stay in school,” said Zena Brown, We Are Aggie Pride program director and senior textile and clothing major.
For more information about We Are Aggie Pride, visit weareaggiepride.ucdavis.edu.
While the exact number of homeless students at UC Davis is unknown, the Financial Aid Office also offers assistance for students facing extreme financial problems.
“We have not put a special program into place, as our experience is that these cases are extremely rare,” said Financial Aid Director Katy Maloney in an e-mail interview. “Whenever situations of this nature are brought to our attention, we work directly with the student on a case-by-case basis to help them in every way possible.”
Moreover, students can find information about financial aid opportunities on their website.
“We have money management information on our website, which includes financial literacy materials, tools and advice. We have also partnered with CashCourse.org to provide helpful financial planning information tailored specifically for UC Davis students,” Maloney said. “We are hoping to further expand information and tools in this area in the future.”
MICHELLE MURPHY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.