While tuition costs have risen dramatically over the past several decades in the California State University and University of California systems, community college remains a relatively cheap.. Sure, tuition has increased for junior colleges, but for less than $50 a unit, it’s still the best bargain in higher education.
But for community college students, cost of living is a major factor in obtaining a degree. Which is why SB 291, a bill proposing financial aid covering living costs for full and part-time students would be a help — if it passes.
In fact, according to CNBC’s annual America’s top States for Business study, California is the second most expensive state in which to live. What’s more, half of all California households cannot afford the cost of housing in their local market, according to a 2016 McKinsey Global Institute report.
According to the bill’s author, Connie Leyva (D-Chino), the true cost of community college, for someone living on their own, is more than $20,000 a year. Tuition and textbooks are just a fraction of that cost — the real expenses are in housing and transportation. In fact, tuition could be free at community colleges, and many young people would still not be able to afford it.
Another factor contributing to this problem is the fact that student aid for community colleges is just a fraction of the aid available to California State University and University of California students. While cost for attending UC doubles the cost for attending a community college, The Institute for College Access and Success reports UC students are granted triple the amount community college students are.
That plays a large factor in whether or not students are able to thrive in community college, or whether they even attend. There have been reports on students working over 30 hours to stay in the area. Some have children to raise, and the practicality of raising kids and managing a full load of coursework is almost impossible. No wonder so many in this situation end up dropping out.
A recent Hope Center survey found 19 percent of community college students became homeless in 2018.
A whopping 60 percent of students were in an insecure housing situation, and 17 percent of them eventually became homeless.
SB 291 would establish a California Community College Student Financial Aid Program to provide financial aid plans to cover some of those costs. It would set aside up to $1.5 billion in funds for students by the 2024-25 school year.
Currently, without the bill in place, there are grants and financial aid coverage for a small number of community college students that qualify, but the number of students who receive these benefits are not enough. The grant students receive is also based on the cost of their tuition, and because community college tuition is low, the grants will hardly help students with the expenses of rent or health care.
SB 219 bill is definitely necessary, but it will cost 250 million a year from the state’s general fund, states Leyna, and since the estimate for cost of living and attending is roughly $20,000 annually per student, this funding is likely to cover only a fraction of the 400,000 students homeless and even more struggling.
Overall, we need to be looking into more solutions and adding to the resources SB 291 would provide, if it were to pass. Just because the SB 291 may not cover every student in need of a grant does not mean we should not take the time and support a bill like this. As a society we a have a long way to go in recognizing the problems in our higher education system and expanding the accessibility. A person seeking higher education should not have to be lucky or elite to obtain financial aid. They also shouldn’t have to live out of their car for four years.