Student advocates affordable higher education for all

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As an international student, Abinaya Prabakar has dealt with not being able to work due to her citizenship status and paying a higher tuition fee. She grew up in a family where women were not allowed to attend any form of schooling, let alone pursue a higher education.

Because of these setbacks, she began to speak out for students who are not able to afford or attend college.

Prabakar, 20, is a third-year business economics student and advocate for students being able to attend college. As the advocacy coordinator for Associate Students Inc. Lobby Corp, she is able to express the concerns of students to local legislators.

“My personal struggles have motivated me to voice my concerns and be an advocate for others as well. I have also had the opportunity to meet and hear some students stories and their path to education,” she said. “These experiences made me realize that there is a real battle to be fought and it is not enough for just a few of us to go to the Capitol every year to ask for support.”

Prabakar’s struggles began as a child when she was raised by her traditional grandparents.

“I think that higher education is very important,” Prabakar said. “(In) my upbringing I was actually told that I can’t go to college or things like that because I’m a woman.”

She said traveling motivated her to do well and go to college, becoming the first woman in her family to do so.

Prabakar has moved around the world, from Singapore to London, and eventually to the U.S. She now advocates for more affordable education because she understands the value that education holds, but also understands the difficulties in making ends meet with the inflating rates of tuition.

As an international student, Prabakar’s tuition costs are highly inflated.

“For me, it’s really hard to pay for tuition because I am in a very interesting student visa,” she said. “It’s not an international student visa but it’s a dependent visa and so it’s under my dad works here then I can legally stay and I can legally go to college but I can’t work so I can’t support myself to (go to) college.”

Prabakar is stuck in a loophole where she is not allowed to work because of her citizenship status, but she is also pinned down with huge financial burdens that accrue from going to a university.

Prabakar is under her father’s work visa, which will end in three months when she turns 21. Her only other option to stay is by applying for an international student visa, but her tuition would increase to nearly four times the amount of an in-state fee to $10,000 per semester.

However, Prabakar is not the only student who is passionate about student debt and receiving a higher education. Corina Bonamassa, a gender studies major, said she understands how important it is for people to be able to receive a higher education.

“(A higher education) really expands your mind and gives you a better outlook about the realities of life and what actually is going on, and without it you’re kind of stuck with a really limited view about understanding things and thinking through things,” she said. “I think the monetary loans are definitely something that’s on your mind and really pushes you towards certain jobs that maybe pay more instead of doing something that you’re more passionate about.”

Higher education comes at a cost for many students. For the current academic year, the average published in-state tuition at public, four-year colleges and universities is almost $9,000, and the average net price is about $3,000, according to three College Board reports on trends in higher education.

Allie Quigley, 24, a sixth-year student double majoring in criminal justice and sociology, said she knows first-hand the growing debt that is accumulating from going to college.

Quigley said she took out a private loan last semester, but has taken out a total of three or four student loans. The total amount she owes on loans is over $30,000.

However, Quigley said taking out loans to pay for college is worth it.

“If you don’t get an education like this, your opportunities are so much more limited,” she said.

Students who take on thousands of dollars in loans, yet want to finish college inspires Prabakar. She understands her duty as an advocate for affordable higher education and uses her struggles as motivation to move forward and reach out to other students who may be in a similar situation as her.

She continues to be a voice for students by attending the California Higher Education Student Summit, which works with other CSU campuses to work towards making higher education more affordable.

“I think that we as students need to realize how much power we have and how much we can change,” Prabakar said.

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