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Community Financial Fund Seeks Student Fee Expansion

Community Financial Fund Seeks Student Fee Expansion
Photos by Alex Yam

Madeleine Lee
Campus Beat Reporter

In an anonymous survey administered to 142 University of California, Santa Barbara undergraduate students in fall 2016, 95 percent of those surveyed admitted that they felt stress and/or anxiety due to financial insecurity.

Though a fairly small pool in comparison to over 20,000 undergraduates attending UCSB, the stress of financial insecurity — especially in light of the UC’s decision to increase tuition for the 2017-2018 academic year — is not a localized phenomenon.

The Associated Students Community Financial Fund, run by director Andrea Wade Catena and a board of seven student executives, is working to alleviate the burden of financial insecurity by helping students become financially literate and less fearful of the sometimes daunting details of financial adulthood.

“It’s worrisome that even students majoring in economics attend our workshops and aren’t able to answer the most basic of questions, like what APR stands for or why it’s important to build credit,” said Catena in an interview with The Bottom Line. “Our hope is that students come out of our workshops with a better understanding of the things that their classes unfortunately don’t cover.”

Since 2011, the A.S. entity has offered financial literacy workshops that focus on topics like interest rates, loan repayment, and proper credit building. Students who complete workshops, turn in subsequent paperwork, and pass the short review exam are eligible for grants of up to $400. The A.S. budget shows that CFF allotted $73,500 for grants this year.

“I work 15 hours a week to cover my rent,” said fourth year psychology major Chance Adkins. “CFF grants have definitely helped me cover groceries at the end of the month, and they’ve also answered a lot of financial questions I need answered before I graduate.”

Catena, who was appointed director to the program in early 2016, has worked alongside student members to expand the entity’s reach by offering workshops specifically for athletic teams, partnering with the economics department for several events, and pushing to implement a financial literacy course students can take for academic credit. Catena, who leaves Associated Students at the end of this quarter, has dealt with special cases as well.

“Last quarter alone, we had three students seeking advice on payday loans they’d taken out,” said Catena, who gave $200 of her own money to help pay one student’s remaining interest. “This is the type of case that’s unfortunate because it’s so easily preventable had those students been more aware of the nature of interest rates and repayment plans.”

In the last year, Catena has also noticed a significant increase in the number of students turning to CFF for both education and financial aid.

“We were forced to turn away at least fifty people last quarter because we just didn’t have enough funding,” said Catena, who estimated that 180-200 grants were distributed in fall 2016. “It feels terrible to have to turn away a student in need just because there isn’t enough to go around.”

Though most of the entity’s budget is spent on grants, a significant portion is used to reserve workshop spaces on campus, the price of which can range from $100 – $1,000 depending on the space.

“We don’t have the backing of an academic department behind us, and all our funding comes from student fees,” said Catena. “Costs like these eat away at our ability to provide aid to individual students.”

To meet increasing demand, Catena said that CFF is pushing to increase their current A.S. fee of $2.12 paid by each student per quarter to $3.75. Catena, along with CFF board member and fourth year economics and accounting major Haley Ferrera, appealed to A.S. senators last Wednesday to put the increase on the spring 2016 ballot. Senators were receptive to the cause.

“The goal is to have students walk out of here and call their bank and know what an interest rate is,” said Catena at Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s in the best interest of the university to recognize the importance of the role we play on campus, and the role financial literacy has in general in shaping the well-being of students.”

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