The day I learned that the educational system itself existed mainly for profit was when I was told I should just drop out for a while in the Educational Opportunity Program office. It’s an office designed to help students from low income families, but when I came to them as an independent student with an extra $21,000 tacked onto my tuition, there was nothing the woman pitying me from behind her desk could do but hand me a tissue as I started to tear up. In a world where you essentially need a bachelor’s degree to be employable past adolescence, education has become so costly that students from low income families look at it as an investment in their future — going thousands of dollars in debt with the faith that their degree will turn a profit. Meanwhile the same system provides advantages to students who go in with a college fund, or have a family that doesn’t have to scrimp at home to send them through school. When we all graduate they’re already five steps ahead. In a state school with so high a budget, and with so many students from families who are struggling, why do these students seem to go unconsidered?
In some cases it seems that unless the office is specifically designated financial aid, it only adds to your financial burden. There are 12-dollar-a-swipe meal plans whose swipes vanish if you don’t use them. For the most part they don’t let you take meals out, so if you work you end up not only wasting $12, but spending money on food elsewhere. There is the $25 access card replacement fee, and the $5 bus sticker fee, that you may end up incurring because your card faded and your picture isn’t visible, or you use your bus sticker on the commute to work so often the sticker fades and that needs to be replaced. More frustrating was the hunt for the elusive alumni scholarship, to find out that it only went to children of alumni. Excuse me if this is a misassumption, but if you’re the child of an alumnus you might not have as great a level of financial need as, say, a first generation college student. Wouldn’t alumni want to open the application to any student with financial need? Or more pressingly, students with the most financial need possible regardless of if or where their parents went to school?
I found myself surprised when in my lecture for ES 115: Energy and the Environment, my professor asked all the students with hybrid cars to raise their hands and upon seeing the scattered few, he praised them for contributing so little to global climate change, assuming the rest of us drove clunky gas-guzzlers. Apparently it didn’t occur to him that most of us didn’t have the resources to pay for gas or the exorbitant campus parking fees, and didn’t have cars at all. That may have been a misinterpretation on my part, but I’m sure all of us have had classes where professors post multiple expensive books to buy and then assign a handful of chapters in each one. Almost more irritating is when professors insist you buy the new edition of their self-authored book when the old edition is available on ebay for less than half the price. In either case, rather than the plethora of books, it would be much more environmental and economical to put scans of the reading on Gauchospace rather than having students dispense scarce funds to pay for books they’ll never use. It’s a disparate issue, especially when some students can ask their parents for the required money and some have to work the extra hours to make it.
A complication that follows closely is that of the insular world of Panhellenic sororities and fraternities: organizations that perpetuate the gap between high and low income students and are major contributors in the creation of that infamous one percent. Greek life comes with perks that I’m sure many students envy: in-home chefs, an exorbitant alcohol budget and more academic ones like test banks, study guides compiled over years and an “in” with any TA that’s part of the same organization. All these perks, however, come at a cost: an extra $1,000 or more per quarter. When compiled with all the other costs and the required volunteer hours, this makes being a part of this sector a pipe-dream for students who need to work to support themselves, or even students whose families are on a budget. If these educational advantages were the only ones, students could probably equalize by putting in extra time studying. But what makes the system more sobering (pun intended) is that you’re automatically exposed to more career and networking opportunities you did nothing of distinction to deserve except survive the pledging process by being able to hold your liquor.
Frustrating is an understatement, especially when you have to choose between working extra hours and making office hours, review sessions or even class.
So, if you’re not in a frat or a sorority and you’re not lucky enough to have parents who can support the multitude of expenses incurred by being a student, you’re probably working. Working students shoulder loads up to 25 hours a week while taking full course loads and trying to keep their GPA and personal lives afloat. In a college town such as this, to get the hours necessary to make ends meet, you may have to work multiple jobs, all while competing for the same opportunities with students who can’t time-manage even though they’re only dealing with half your workload. Frustrating is an understatement, especially when you have to choose between working extra hours and making office hours, review sessions or even class. This is not an exaggeration, I only wish it were. What’s more troubling is that, after all this struggle, you graduate thousands of dollars in debt with loans that are less forgiving to you than they are to large corporate banks.
It’s a system that has existed in different forms since education became the norm, and is the reason for the huge gap between rich and poor that is only getting wider. However, to deconstruct a system, one has to recognize it first, and our school is one among others that definitely should recognize. When a group of sorority sisters gets caught cheating on a test with no consequence, it’s a symptom of a larger issue, and UCSB can do better. No matter what, it’ll churn out great minds, but if so many students didn’t have to struggle on the way to graduation, I have no doubt they’d be more likely to succeed faster instead of being primarily worried about paying off their student loans.