Middle-Income Students Struggle to Make Ends Meet

Photo: Karen Carr, a sophomore from a middle-income family, works at a cafe to help pay for her education. She, like others from her background, does not receive financial aid.
Kevin Hahn/Photo
Karen Carr, a sophomore from a middle-income family, works at a cafe to help pay for her education. She, like others from her background, does not receive financial aid.

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Micki Boden does not qualify for financial aid. But every week the UC Berkeley freshman walks a mile and a half to the recycling center at the Safeway on Shattuck Avenue to exchange recyclables for a small amount of money to go toward her tuition.

As a daughter of divorced parents, Boden is unsure whether her mother, who is her primary parent and makes very little money, will be able to pay for her tuition.

"When I was applying for colleges, I was on my dad's tax forms so I got evaluated by his income and I didn't get any financial aid," she said, although she added that the recession may take a toll on her father's income level next year.

Boden is one of many students who come from families of middle income and do not qualify for financial aid, yet are not financially capable of covering rising costs.

Students this semester are paying 9.3 percent more in fees after the UC Board of Regents approved the increases in May. In addition, the regents will consider a mid-year fee increase of 7.5 percent, as well as a total increase of 32 percent in fees from this fall to next fall, at their meeting in November.

While the government and university subsidize these costs through Cal Grants and Pell Grants for low-income students, many resources are not available to middle-income students.

According to UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore, the most recent and reliable data from the Financial Aid Office reports that 71 percent of fall 2008 undergraduates received some form of financial aid through grants, scholarships, loans, work-study programs and other awards.

More than half of these aid recipients came from families with an income of less than $60,000 and 22 percent were from middle income families with incomes between $60,000 and $130,000. One-third of all aid recipients fell into the $60,000 to $180,000 income range.

Gilmore said in an e-mail that administrators are concerned about how students from middle-income families are dealing with the current fee increases. She added that these students are more likely to feel the impact of the increased tuition more significantly than other groups on campus.

"While faculty, students and staff are sharing the burden of the economic crisis, it is clear that we need to ensure that we are doing all we can to make sure that middle-income students are not priced out of a UC Berkeley education," Gilmore said in the e-mail.

For Boden, one way of offsetting the cost of her education is recycling cans, though the money is minimal.

Still, due to tuition increases and her lack of financial aid, Boden said her time on campus may be shorter than she had hoped. She has already acquired enough community college credits to cover two years of her education.

"I wanted to go to college for four years and do the whole experience, but I think it's just more financially sound to go for two," Boden said.

Gilmore said campus administrators may be looking to other sources, such as private fundraising opportunities, to aid middle-income students.

Other public universities, like the University of Michigan, already utilize alumni donations to meet the demonstrated financial need of all its in-state students, according to Vickie Crupper, associate director of client services in the office of financial aid.

Crupper added that many families who think they may not be eligible for financial aid actually qualify.

"We can go beyond Pell and federal aid programs and can assist students with much higher family contributions," she said.

Still, Crupper said the university cannot provide the same resources to out-of-state students.

Some private universities, such as Yale University, have been able to support a greater portion of students through financial aid programs due to the size of their endowments. As of June 30, Yale's endowment totaled $16.3 billion, while UC Berkeley's totaled $2.3 billion.

Last year, Yale revamped its financial aid system to cover more students from families of middle income, said Caesar Storlazzi, director of financial aid.

"It not only made it possible for families under $60,000 to have easy and substantial access to Yale, but we also changed the way we calculate family contributions for those families making up to $120,000," Storlazzi said.

He said Yale's financial aid programs are strong and can grow in response to whatever fee increases occur.

For UC Berkeley, which faces a $150 million budget deficit this year, the idea of keeping financial aid programs in line with fee increases is not easy.

"The university is in a tough place," said sophomore Jamie Brown, ASUC campus organizing director of state affairs in the external affairs office.

The financial strain on the campus and the wider UC system causes many students to change their plans for their undergraduate education.

Sophomore Karen Carr, who considers her family part of the upper middle-class, said she will likely spend an extra year as an undergraduate. Carr, who works at a cafe on campus, said because of the extra costs to her parents, who are currently funding her education, she will likely spend a year working before fulfilling her plans to attend medical or graduate school.

Sophomore Aja Salazar said although she has been affected by tuition increases as a low income student, she thinks middle income students are suffering the most.

"One of the girls in my house pays her tuition through loans and both of her parents are high school teachers," Salazar said. "I think money is definitely more of an issue for her than it is for me ... just because she doesn't get that subsidy or support."

This lack of support forces many middle income students, like Boden, to work towards supporting themselves in order to obtain a higher education.

"This is a public university," she said. "It's supposed to enable people who can't or wouldn't normally be able to go to school to have the same opportunity as everybody else. Berkeley and the other UCs should actually live up to their title."


Contact Stephanie Baer at [email protected]

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