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Ongoing housing, food crises hit California college students

Cassydee Guinto
Students mingle on the campus at Cal Berkeley. In a 2023 report by the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC), 53% of students applying for financial aid were identified as being housing insecure and 66% were identified as being food insecure.

A large number of California college students are facing more financial burdens than they were a few years ago.

Regardless if they are attending a University of California, California State University, community or private school, a high number of students are finding that affordable housing and food are two of the issues that are impacting their ability to stay afloat. And despite current and future assistance, college tuition and affordability has become a key focus in higher education discussions. 

When it comes to going to college or university, financial aid definitely covers the cost of tuition. But that differs from the total cost of attendance and what we found from these surveys is that students often struggle to cover the total cost of attendance, said Shelveen Ratnam, a spokesperson for the California Student Aid Commission. It’s not just tuition; its also housing, its also money going towards transportation, money to buy groceries. Its more comprehensive.

In a 2023 report by the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC), 53% of students applying for financial aid were identified as being housing insecure and 66% were identified as being food insecure. Compared to the 2018 Student Expenses and Resources Survey done by the commission, this is nearly a 20% increase for student housing insecurity and nearly a 30% increase for food insecurity.

Ratnam said he is worried about the effect this has on affordable higher-level education for all Californians.

It is most definitely concerning. It is alarming to see how much the student housing and food insecurity has rose (sic) – these are huge barriers and we know this is unfair,  Ratnam said. It isnt something students should have to be facing or deal with when they’re just trying to get a higher education; there shouldnt be a barrier.

Some students also face specific challenges that further affect their financial situation, like raising a family while enrolled in school. 

Tomie Lenear – program director of the Student Parent Center at UC Berkeley – highlights the difficulties many student parents meet when trying to keep up with a rigorous schedule while worrying about affordability. 

Housing, tuition, life costs, incidentals that come with parenthood no matter what – you can’t predict it, Lenear said.

In order to combat these issues, government programs like CalFresh give access to affordable food to those who qualify, including college students. Another program, CalWORKs, also helps with housing for students with families. 

Our mission is to partner with the community to deliver quality services to ensure access to resources that support, protect and empower individuals and families to achieve self-sufficiency, said Larena Baldazo of Contra Costa County’s Employment and Human Services Department. And we envision a community where all individuals and families can be healthy, safe, secure and self-sufficient. 

The CSAC is working to provide colleges and universities with campus EBT (electronic benefit transfer) machines so students may access CalFresh benefits more easily, Ratnam said. However, many still find themselves struggling with rising costs and loss of resources.

While the majority of students currently enrolled in higher-level education see their degree as worth the cost across the board, according to a 2023 poll by Gallup, the affordability of that education is in question. Additionally, rising economic inflation since the CSAC 2018 Student Expenses and Resources Survey (mentioned above), along with the COVID pandemic, has made it more difficult to meet basic student needs now than before, reports CSAC. 

Ive heard about college students having debt … it doesnt just affect the students, it also affects the parents, said Oluwatojuba Fagbe, a 12th grader at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch who plans to attend Los Medanos College in Pittsburg. Were still students, even though were 18 and above, were still students. A lot of people are from different homes or countries, and some people are not really financially stable [being] college students.

*Additional Resources:

‘Shocking’ report shows spike in California college students struggling to pay for food and housing | EdSource 

California Student Aid Commission Food and Housing Basic Needs Survey 2023 

CalFresh Frequently Asked Questions | EHSD 

Current College Students Say Their Degree Is Worth the Cost 

Facing $1.5B deficit, California State University to hike tuition 6% annually for next 5 years | AP News 

Cassydee Guinto is an 11th grader at Pittsburg High School in Pittsburg.


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