Lurking beneath the ballooning student debt crisis is a shadow crisis of ever-growing non tuition costs, ranging from housing to food to textbooks. These costs undermine the ability of lower and middle income students and families to afford higher education, effectively depriving them of the skills needed to thrive in today’s workforce.
According to the College Board, non tuition expenses took up about 60 percent of the average budget for those enrolled in 4 year public institutions during the 2018-19 school year. For community college students, the situation is even worse, as a whopping 80 percent of their average budget goes toward non tuition expenses.
That means students like Tom often have to choose between buying food and paying for all the other non tuition costs of college. These students try to stretch their budgets in other, unhealthy ways in order to make ends meet. Despite working tirelessly during the summer, Tom during his sophomore year of college found out quickly that his savings were not enough to cover tuition, rent, and food. Therefore, he sacrificed eating, at great cost to himself both physically and academically. He became gaunt and depressed, and his empty stomach distracted him from being able to achieve the best that he could be academically.
These struggles that Tom went through are just as equally shared by the many hard-working students that live in Santa Barbara County. Of the 200,000 University of California undergraduate students system wide, 48 percent reported that they experienced low or very low food security. At UC Santa Barbara alone, the percentage of food insecure students was 48 percent of the 23,000 undergraduate students.
The inability of students to afford a roof over their heads in this increasingly expensive housing market is also only growing by the day. A recent study released by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University surveyed 40,000 students across 57 California community colleges campuses and found that 60 percent of respondents reported being housing insecure in the previous year, and 19 percent reported being outright homeless.
19 percent of students being forced to sleep in their cars is 19 percent too much. 48 percent of students not knowing when their next meal will come is 48 percent too much. These numbers and figures truly expose the widespread extent to which all these non-tuition expenses cripple our students. While much has indeed been done in our community to address these pressing issues, there is so much more our community should do to truly address them.
This is why we at Free SB are advocating for allocating tax revenue from legal cannabis cultivation in Santa Barbara County towards combating the college affordability crisis. Tax revenue from cannabis cultivation is projected to bring in $25 million in annual revenue for the county. With this revenue, we should fund college affordability programs in our community. We must both reinvest in community programs that already do laudable work addressing these problems and create new initiatives to further help these students.
The fact of the matter is this: non-tuition costs represent a tremendous hurdle to earning an education for Santa Barbara County students. However, if we take steps today to address these costs, we can reduce and eliminate the financial, physical, and mental burdens that plague so many students in our county. We can give all those who are eligible and willing to make a better life for themselves and their families the access they need to earn an affordable high-quality education.
If we are to make this dream a reality, we must take action. It is our responsibility as students, parents, educators, and concerned citizens of this great community to come together as one. It is upon us all to reverse the long-standing trend of systematic defunding of higher education and make funding critical basic needs security programs a priority in our county. It is upon us all to make our voices heard by the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors on July 9th to let them know of the urgency of addressing this crisis in a swift and meaningful way. It is upon us all to create a community where students are free from student hunger, free from student homelessness, and free from overwhelming student debt.
Learn more at https://www.freesb.org/rsvp-for-meeting-1
Eric Moon, an Off-Campus Senator at UC Santa Barbara, is a student leader currently working on the Free SB campaign.
Note: Viewpoints expressed in the Letter to the Editor section of The Bottom Line are solely the opinion of the author. The Bottom Line is not affiliated with and does not endorse any of the individuals or organizations that appear in the Letter to the Editor section.