In summary

Without sufficient financial aid, I face the risk of dropping out of UC Santa Cruz due to the lack of affordable housing.

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By Ruby Portillo, Special to CalMatters

Ruby Portillo is a student at UC Santa Cruz and a uAspire Student Advocacy Fellow, ruportil@ucsc.edu.

Housing is so expensive in Santa Cruz County that the possibility of homelessness is a genuine fear for me and some of my fellow students at the University of California, Santa Cruz. 

Without accurate cost of living estimates and sufficient financial aid, I face the risk of dropping out of school due to the lack of affordable housing. As a student at UC Santa Cruz, I’ve often struggled to afford basic needs, such as housing, because of the overwhelming amount of financial responsibility that I have on top of all of my school expenses. 

I am a first-generation college student and housing insecurity has added substantial stress on top of the pressure of figuring out college on my own. I have taken out the maximum amount of student loans every quarter since I started, and I still end up with very little to no money for basic needs once I have paid for all of my course materials and other student fees. 

I am grateful to have found a community with other students on campus fighting against housing insecurity. There has been a movement, started by graduate students, to fight for a cost of living adjustment. In this community are first-generation college students, people with disabilities, mothers, and so many more beautiful people. Our goal is to be able to afford our monthly rent without having to resort to skipping meals. 

Did you know that UC students are only guaranteed housing for their first two years as undergraduate students? This matters because housing costs are so high in Santa Cruz that it is quite common for students to skip meals in order to save enough money for monthly rent. 

Santa Cruz County is in the midst of a housing crisis. The cost of living index in Santa Cruz is nearly 40% higher than the national average. This is one of the reasons Santa Cruz County had a 10% increase in the amount of people who were homeless in 2019. An informal survey conducted in 2016 showed that 16% of the student population at UC Santa Cruz was homeless or living without secure housing – that’s 8 out of every 50 students. 

Lowering the cost of on-campus housing at UC Santa Cruz could help lower the cost of housing in the surrounding area, making rent more affordable for students and community members. Increasing the amount of financial aid to reflect an accurate cost of living adjustment would help students afford housing without sacrificing other basic needs.

It doesn’t seem like the higher education system takes into account students who are responsible for all their financial needs. These students are often overlooked with a system that assumes parents provide their financial support. It is unjust that students are obligated to report their parents’ income on financial aid applications, when many of us cannot rely on a single dollar of their income.

If I were a college president I would fight to reform financial aid so that housing is not an incredible burden on students. Financial aid should not take parents’ income into account if a student is not receiving financial support from them. Loans should be counted separate from grant aid that does not need to be repaid. 

These reforms may even convince more individuals, especially historically marginalized groups, to pursue higher education without fear of being responsible for an overwhelming amount of debt. Perhaps financial aid worked for students when it was first created, but now it is in need of reform. Students deserve better. 

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