61% of California Community College Students Are Very Low Income, Reveals New Report

Posted By Eliana Osborn on May 16, 2016 at 3:16 pm
61% of California Community College Students Are Very Low Income, Reveals New Report

The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) reports on the precarious financial situation facing community college students. In its new report, called On the VergeTICAS highlights the difficult financial decisions community college students in California are facing as they try to further their education, as well as provides recommendations for change.

More than 55% of California community college students come from families who, according to FAFSA calculations, are not expected to contribute to college expenses. That, according to the report’s introduction, means “When community college students’ resources from savings, earnings, and grants are not enough to cover their costs – as is the case for virtually all low-income students at community colleges – they are left with limited options.” The choices that remain impact graduation success, learning outcomes, mental health, and every other aspect of their lives.

12,000 students participated in the TICAS report, a third of whom gave detailed personal accounts. The overall finding? Even community college, the most affordable form of higher education in the country, is simply not affordable for wide swathes of the population. In a time when states are increasingly looking at ways to bridge the gap between aid and actual cost, the data from this report is crucial.

Report highlights:

  • 54% have a parent born outside the United States
  • 45% are the first in their family to attend college
  • 83% hope to earn a bachelor’s degree
  • 61% come from very low-income families, those earning under $30,000/year
  • 32% of students reduce their credit load because of family responsibilities

Making community college tuition free will help students, but the other expenses of college attendance will remain a burden. Another frequent concern is the complexity of financial aid; while the forms have been simplified, understanding what funds are available and when they can be used remains confusing.

The personal stories of student worries make the TICAS report unique—and clear. The high cost of housing frequently comes up, as well as concerns over food and transportation expenses, weigh heavily on these students. Most would like to focus more on education, attending school full-time in particular, but the circumstances never seem to add up.

Aside from increasing actual aid dollars, some needed changes to the system become clear. 45% of students survey experienced long lines at campus financial aid offices, which can be a big problem for students balancing work and classes. Disbursement—when financial aid money hits your account and tuition gets paid—is something students can’t control but that creates massive stress. Better systems for identifying students waiting on Pell grants or other aid could help, as well as improved communication.

The message of the TICAS report is clear: students want to continue their education, but real life frequently gets in the way, especially for those at the lowest economic levels.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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