When someone Googles the phrase ‘college students struggle’, the dropdown list of suggested searches can appear as shocking. College students struggle with time management. College students struggle to pay tuition. College students struggle to find jobs. College students struggle with writing. Although the choices might seem surprising, they parallel the current state of opportunity afforded to college students, specifically within the state of California.
A college education at the University of California currently costs $12,192 a year for in-state undergraduate students. Although the University of California, Riverside prides itself in being a seemingly affordable option, as 80% of students receive some form of need-based aid, recent studies demonstrate that this is not sufficient to match the need of students affected by food and housing insecurity. 42% of University of California students struggle with food insecurity, as defined as routinely skipping meals to afford the costs of educational expenses, and specifically on the UC Riverside campus, this number is over 60%. Clearly, structural inequalities exist within the pursuit of a student’s most basic needs. As the rising cost of college continues, students continue to stress on how their basic needs will be met, overall impacting their mental health, academic performance, and career ambitions. While the statistics and stories are present, there is still disconnect between students and administration as university officials still continue to threaten to raise tuition incrementally every year.
When crafting this project and addressing an issue such as basic needs security, I want to be conscious that the term ‘basic needs insecurity’ has the potential to encompass a variety of issues that students deserve fair access to. For the context of my blueprint proposal, I am focusing on creating action towards four areas of basic needs security: 1) food security, 2) housing insecurity, 3) hygiene security and 4) job security. As the project develops over the years, so will the scope of what basic needs security means for the student population, but for the purpose of the blueprint, I believe it would be most effective if I centralize on the four areas of insecurity previously mentioned. I viewed these four areas as the most impending to the overall student experience.
This project exists to eliminate the greatest barriers within and outside the University of California, Riverside when students attempt to access opportunities to alleviate their socioeconomic circumstances. When addressing housing insecurity, it is vital to recognize problematic local ordinances that disproportionally affect students who are already dealing with homelessness, as well as prevent ordinances from happening again through the use of statewide anti-discriminatory legislation. What’s more, by creating transitional housing options for former student housing employees, survivors of domestic abuse or relationship violence, student parents and other marginalized communities, they are given a greater probability of having a secure place to live, work and study instead of being forced on the streets and criminalized for innocent behavior.
Within the realm of addressing food insecurity on campus, I hope to work with my local Assemblymember to create a Cal Fresh College program, in which students who are eligible for work study opportunities will also be eligible for Cal Fresh. Currently, Cal Fresh requires that students work 20 hours a week, while work study limits the student to working 19 hours a week, creating inequities that limit how students can navigate and access assistance. In writing the legislation, I am also conscious of the communities that do not qualify for financial aid such as our undocumented students, international students and formerly incarcerated students. The introduction and passage of the legislation is by no means a ‘one size fits all’ solution, but a practical approach to beginning the conversation of barriers of access for college students.