Assisting students in need

NICKI PADAR / AGGIE FILE30

Different resources help struggling Aggies stay in school

Deborah Agee, the director of the UC Davis Financial Aid Office, took out loans in order to earn her undergraduate degree. Since then, Agee has spent her career paying forward the help she received.

“I certainly think it’s incredibly important for a land-grant institution such as ours to invest in the larger community,” Agee said. “It makes the world better for all of us.”

Students who take out loans, like Agee, may find themselves in a position in which they run out of funds at the end of each quarter. At UC Davis, a number of resources and organizations, including the Financial Aid Office, exist specifically for the purpose of providing assistance to students who are food-insecure or in need of financial support.

“The first thing we’re going to do with a student who comes in and tells us that they are struggling is […] to look at their whole package and see […] what the issues that they’re facing are,” Agee said. “If we can understand that more specifically, then we might be able to identify resources or other aid that the student may not have considered previously.”

75 percent of students at UC Davis receive some form of financial aid and 43 percent of students at UC Davis receive money from Pell Grants. Although the Financial Aid Office does not provide resources specifically for homeless students or students without primary incomes, Agee urges that such students seek university jobs and not hesitate to take loans. She also advises all students to fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

“I have heard, anecdotally, that there are students who don’t take their loans and instead struggle,” Agee said. “The student loans are an investment in yourself. The small amount of student loans that you would have to take to get yourself through your undergraduate education [compared to] what you get out of a UC Davis degree is just tremendous. Go ahead and take the student loans.”

One organization on campus which provides financial assistance to students in need is We Are Aggie Pride (WAAP). According to Karla Timbang, a fourth-year psychology and communication major and the WAAP program director, the organization has been a student-run and largely student-funded resource for undergraduate students since 2012.

“Since it’s started, we were able to help over 80 students stay in school and finish college,” Timbang said. “We don’t have a budget [or] limit. If we awarded five students this quarter, it doesn’t mean we have to cut it off if a student comes and they need help.”

Students who receive help from WAAP must be fully-registered UC Davis students, must have exhausted all financial resources — including any possible loans — and must have a FAFSA on file. Though WAAP’s slogan is ‘Students Helping Students,’ the organization also receives donations from faculty and alumni including the UC Davis Foundation. Bruce Bell, a 1985 economics graduate and chairman of the foundation, said the board of the foundation decided to partner with WAAP. Together, the two groups raised $110,000.

“When you talk about funds for people in critical need, that is exactly what […WAAP provides],” Bell said. “We [helped] establish a $110,000 fund for We Are Aggie Pride that they’re wanting to use as […] the start of an endowment so it becomes a reusable [source] as opposed to a fundraiser.”

The UC Davis Foundation has in the past few years raised $1 million — which was then matched by an outside source — to create a fund for student scholarships.

“We’re looking, as a board, to find ways to involve ourselves directly with the students as opposed to just […] fundraising for some big project,” Bell said. “We find that involving ourselves in these types of projects is more fulfilling for us because you know that you’re helping someone stay in school and continue their education — which is obviously something that’s important to them and important to us.”

The UC Davis Food Pantry is visited by approximately 100 students every day who may identify as food-insecure, according to Rosa Maria Martinez, the organization’s director of external affairs. Martinez, a third-year human development major, said her parents struggled with food insecurity after arriving in the United States, so providing assistance to those who are in need of food is an issue of personal importance to her.

I want to ensure a student’s pursuit of higher education is not hindered by their financial burden,” Martinez said. “A student should not be consumed by thoughts of where they sleep tonight, where their next meal comes from and making a choice between rent, tuition and basic needs. Basic needs are not the second choice.”

The Pantry has instituted a point system to divide and distribute the resources amongst students. Students who use the Pantry may do so with confidentiality and anonymity.

“The Pantry provides a service free of judgment — everyone is welcomed with open arms,” Martinez said. “We also provide fresh produce every weekday in the early afternoons and have a Calfresh — […] food stamp — representative that helps students fill out the application [which] can [help students] receive up to $194 a month to pay for groceries. On a monthly basis, we provide students with ten points worth of food through our Emergency Food Assistance Program.”

About 3,300 students utilize the Pantry in an academic year and, in the two years Timbang has worked at WAAP, 12 students have met the criteria and received financial support. However, Agee said the Financial Aid Office only encounters one to two students a year who are in need of immediate assistance.

“We’re here to counsel students,” Agee said. “I just want to say: we’re not scary, we do care about you and we will help you. You shouldn’t be afraid to come to us if you’re really in trouble because we can help.”

Because college is not free and will likely remain costly, at least for the foreseeable future, students like Timbang see the continued need for additional assistance.

“In a perfect world, We Are Aggie Pride shouldn’t exist,” Timbang said. “The university should be able to […] help out. I think it’s important that the university help these students because education is really important. It shouldn’t be about […] money, it should be about educating future leaders.”

Written by: Hannah Holzer – features@theaggie.org