California State University Faces ‘Crisis’ as More Students Work To Pay for College - Higher Education
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California State University Faces ‘Crisis’ as More Students Work To Pay for College

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by Amara Phillip

For many college students, long hours and packed schedules are an all-too-common complaint. But San Jose State University professor Amy Leisenring noticed that her students seemed more overworked than usual.

“I noticed how many students would say they couldn’t finish a paper or couldn’t even come to class because they were working,” she says.

Leisenring really wanted to know how college work schedules impact particularly minority students, who are far more likely work while in college.

Her study, “Higher Tuition, More Work: and Academic Harm,” surveyed 163 minority students at California State University, asking them to assess how their work habits affect their education. To Leisenring’s surprise, 86 percent of students reported having to work to pay for college, a far greater percentage than previous studies had found.

The report is part of a series, “The CSU Crisis and California’s Future,” commissioned by the UCLA-based Civil Rights Project. The series examines the impact of recent budget cuts on the California State University system.

Tuition hikes coupled with dramatic reductions in financial aid have driven students to work longer hours, often at the expense of their grades, says Leisenring.

Previous studies have found a negative correlation between work and school. Students often begin seeing a decline in their grades if their work schedules surpass 15 hours per week, says Leisenring.

“The large majority of these students are working well over 15 hours a week,” she says.

Sixty-two percent of students anticipate taking a longer time to graduate because of their work schedules. Seventy percent report lower grades, and at least 30 percent are considering dropping out of college. Most are non-traditional students who either live with their families or off campus.

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“A lot of students are actually helping to support their families,” she says. “So they’re not just paying for school but they’re helping to pay for their families as well.”

Since California, like many other states, is in the midst of a budget crisis, students have found themselves working more hours in order to keep up with rising costs.

The State University Grant, or SUG, sets aside one-third of revenues generated by the California State University system to assist students in need.

Low-income students have received a dwindling share of this grant in recent years.

“The problem is that the total aid packages can’t deal with the rising costs both of tuition and everything else in students’ lives,” says Dr. Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project.

During the past year alone, students experienced a 5-percent tuition increase. A 10-percent tuition increase is anticipated in the fall, and a 30-percent increase is not far off, he says.

Orfield says that the financial situation of low-income students only worsened during the recession, with 20 percent of students whose parents’ incomes declined as well.

“A significant portion of students are from families with homes in foreclosure,” he says.

The state has few options when it comes to easing the burden of working students, since partisan wrangling over tax increases has made a compromise all but impossible, he says.

“It’s going to get much worse if there’s no agreement about any kind of tax revenue,” says Orfield.

Fifty percent of students surveyed said they needed to work an additional six to 36 hours per week due to budget cuts.

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Sometimes, says Leisenring, course fees are raised right before classes start, giving students precious little time to scrape around for extra cash.

“Some students talk about having been dropped from their classes because they don’t have an extra $400 or $500 lying around,” she says.

“We’re really moving more toward a model where you can only go to school if you can afford it,” she says.

The full report can be read on the Civil Rights Project’s website at  http://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu

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