The UC system has struggled for the past several decades to provide adequate financial aid to students in the wake of continuously rising tuition and cost of living. In order to stop the pattern of underserving low-income students, it is vital that we double the Federal Pell Grant.
One of the main sources of funding for low-income students is the Federal Pell Grant. The Pell Grant used to cover 75% of the cost to attend a 4-year public university, yet it currently covers only 28% of attendance costs. The current maximum Pell Grant is $6,495 for the 2021-22 award year, reflecting the lack of consideration of tuition hikes and inflation.
This affects a huge population of California students as more than 78,000 UC students—35 percent of all undergraduates—receive Pell Grants. And, more than 210,000 Cal State students – 45% of all undergraduates – receive Pell Grants. Limited financial resources lead to students continuing to lack basic needs such as food, housing security, reliable child care, and technology that make pursuing a higher education possible.
In Santa Cruz particularly, the cost and scarcity of housing is a major issue for students. The median rent in Santa Cruz pushes upwards of $3,000 with many students facing continual issues of rent burden, overcrowding, and forced moves/evictions disrupting their education.
Additionally, according to a report by UCLA, 20% of California Community College students and 5% of University of California students are experiencing houselessness. In 2016, it was estimated that 8 of every 50 UC Santa Cruz students were experiencing houselessness. Since then, the cost of living has only increased, and the availability of housing has decreased, a crisis which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only is it pertinent to double the Pell to increase accessibility to education, but increasing the Pell Grant will ease student loan burden and boost the economy. If students are better financially supported during college they are more likely to be financially secure after college. At UC Santa Cruz, students on average have $21,375 in debt, demonstrating the need for increased financial aid.
While the recent $550 increase in the Pell Grant included in the Build Back Better Act is welcomed and very much needed, it is simply not enough. Doubling the Pell Grant is a critical step in ensuring that students have the resources necessary to pursue their higher education.
Taryn D’Amore is the Organizing Director in the SUA’s Office of External Affairs