The New York Times applauds UCSB on its availability and affordability for low-income students, but some students urge that there is still much more work for the university to do

The New York Times (NYT) recently ranked UC Santa Barbara third in the nation on its College Access Index, a system for ranking how well universities foster economic diversity and upward mobility.

The Index’s top ten also includes five other UC campuses with UC Irvine at number one, UC Davis number two, UC San Diego number four, UC Los Angeles number five and UC Berkeley number seven. The Index is based on the share of students receiving Pell grants, the graduation rate of Pell grant recipients and the net cost after financial aid for low and middle income students. This year’s results led the NYT to call UC “California’s upward mobility machine.”

Thirty-eight percent of UCSB students receive Pell grants, with 31 percent also likely to graduate based on past rates, and the net cost for low and middle income students is $14,000.

Associated Students External Vice President for Statewide Affairs (EVPSA), University of California Student Association (UCSA) undergraduate chair and fourth-year black studies and sociology double major Mohsin Mirza said NYT’s praise of UC as an “upward mobility machine” is “somewhat incomplete.”

“Students of all incomes struggle with the rising costs of housing and textbooks,” Mirza said.

“While the UC should be praised for the amount of financial aid it provides to low income students, particularly in comparison to other universities, that praise should be tempered with the reality that there is much work to be done.”

Mirza said while the College Access Index highlights the successes of UC, UCSA will continue to be critical.

“We see our role as pushing the UC to be the best it possibly can be,” Mirza said. “Praise isn’t effective at creating changes, actions and pressure are.”

UCSB Director of Admissions Lisa Przekop said she feels UCSB is “very proactive” in creating economic diversity and its high ranking in the College Access Index is a result of outreach efforts that start long before the admissions process.

“We work closely with high school and community college counselors to spread the word about opportunities available at UCSB,” Przekop said in an email. “We also work with community organizations and early outreach programs to reach younger students and families as they begin to consider college preparation.”

According to Przekop, one way UCSB works to serve low-income students is being “visible and available,” providing information that explains the application and financial aid processes and shows low-income families higher education is “a viable pathway to success.”

“Some families don’t have a history of college attendance and fear that the cost is a barrier to even considering college,” Przekop said in an email. “We have special programs in place to meet the informational needs of first-generation and/or low-income students because they may not have easy access to that information otherwise.”

Przekop said outreach and informational assistance are the only ways UC campuses increase their numbers of Pell-receiving students, because the admissions process itself is “need blind.”

“Family income cannot be a deciding factor in admitting a student,” Przekop said in an email.

According to Przekop, the Office of Admissions promotes UCSB at over 600 high schools every fall and chooses campuses with students of all economic backgrounds, leading to greater economic diversity at the university.

“These schools include those situated in low-income, middle-income, and high-income regions of the state,” Przekop said in an email. “We want students from all backgrounds because we want a diverse learning community.”

Third-year psychology major and Pell grant recipient Chance Adkins said while he was surprised UCSB is ranked third in the nation on the College Access Index, he is not surprised it was ranked highly given his experience with financial aid opportunities.

“I was offered more financial aid here than anywhere else,” Adkins said. “Talking to people who attend other universities, the gap between my financial aid and theirs is higher than one would expect, especially between the UCs.”

Adkins said while he is glad aid is available when needed, he believes the high number of students receiving Pell grants at UC could explain in part the recent increases in tuition and is a sign that public higher education is increasingly unaffordable without aid.

“With the way that tuition keeps increasing, it makes sense that more people are needing assistance,” Adkins said.

Mirza said UC should be proud of the ranking but should not let it take away from the urgency to take on “problems that still exist.”

“Between unaffordable housing, students skipping meals to save money, and the majority of students in the middle class, in particular taking on tens of thousands of dollars in debt, there is much work to be done,” Mirza said.

A version of this story appeared on page 6 of the Thursday, September 24, 2015 print edition of the Daily Nexus.