Financial situations affect student graduation rates

In Campus News, News

Correction: This story was corrected on March 18, 2016 at 7:05 p.m. A graphic for this article was posted that displayed outdated 6-year graduation rates for the CSU system, UC system, Cal State Fullerton, and overall state rates. The article itself also featured outdated information regarding 6-year graduation rates.

There are particular inevitabilities on the path to earning a degree as a college student in today’s world that serve as roadblocks to the rate at which students graduate. One of these is finances and its complexities.

Following President Barack Obama’s challenge to the United States to have the highest graduation rates in the world by 2020, Cal State Fullerton has set goals of its own to aid in the reaching of this national challenge. To date, CSUF’s six-year graduation rate is at approximately 62 percent in fall 2009, and the Cal State administration is looking to boost overall graduation rates across the system to 60 percent.

However, the university understands that financial issues play a pivotal role in impeding the timing of graduation at CSUF. Balancing a part-time job with a full-time class schedule is a common tale and it, at times, takes away from the race to graduation.

Fourth-year CSUF athletic training student Brandee Barbee has felt firsthand the stings of the pricey California education system. To help herself afford school, she works as a front desk attendant at CSUF’s Student Recreation Center, supplemented with loans and grants that total up to $15,000.

“I haven’t started paying (the loans) off yet, but I’m sure I will be struggling when I start,” Barbee said.

On average, it takes an individual up to 10 years to pay off student loans, said Kelly England, Interim Director of Financial Aid.

While living in Fullerton, the remainder of her grant and loan money after paying tuition would go straight to her rent, which would total to about $1,000 monthly.

So, Barbee decided to move back to her family’s home in Fontana to alleviate some of her financial hardships, exchanging monthly rent for a daily hourlong commute. Spending $30 to fill her tank every three or four days instead costs her roughly $200 a month.

With a day starting at 4 a.m. for a morning shift at the SRC, class from 8:30 to 11:00 a.m., work in the athletic training room from 12:30 to 5 p.m. and finally the commute back home, Barbee said that exhaustion gets to her.

“When it comes to school, I know I should put in more effort than I am, and I’m not because I’m tired when I get home,” Barbee said. “I don’t want to do anything, because I’ve been doing something all day.”

Still, when all is said and done, Barbee will be approximately $30,000 in debt after she graduates.

Similarly, Alexandria Stewart, fourth-year biology student and track and field student athlete, is also experiencing a financial struggle. As a track and field athlete, she only receives a partial scholarship, which covers half of her tuition and all of her books.

To compensate for the rest of her tuition and fees, Stewart relies on Pell Grants and loans, receiving around $1,200 a semester from Pell Grants and $2,000 a year in loans. She also has to balance two jobs on top of everything else.

Grants, including Cal Grants and federal Pell Grants, are typically based upon students’ financial needs and are not required to be paid back. On the other hand, loans are money that must be paid back.

“We have a relatively high-need population, meaning we have a large number of (Pell Grant) recipients,” England said.

Roughly 67 to 68 percent of the CSUF student body receives the same type of financial aid, England said. In the 2013-2014 academic year, 17,214 students received grants or scholarship aid, with an average of $8,794 per student.

The average borrowed amount of money per academic career is $13,500 per student, averaging a monthly payment of $139, according to England.

As of the 2015-2016 school year, the systemwide tuition for CSUs is $5,472 per academic year for undergraduate students enrolled in more than six units per term, according to the Cal State University website. In comparison, yearly tuition is just over $12,000 for University of California students.

Although paying tuition at CSUF is far more manageable than other private universities and prestigious public institutions, students are still calling for assistance.
“A high percentage of our students are relatively low-income,” said Lynn Sargeant, associate dean for student relations.

This puts CSUF at a disadvantage and at the lower end of the graduation income gap.
According to CNNMoney, it is more difficult for lower income students to climb the economic ladder. Well over half of students who come from wealthy families receive bachelors degrees, but that number dwindles to less than 10 percent for low-income students.

According to the Center for Studies in Higher Education, students from wealthy families typically attend the most prestigious private and public universities, which include some UC schools.

There are efforts set in place to alleviate the financial burden and subsequently raise the graduation rate.

“The Obama Administration has been putting a lot of effort into new repayment programs for loans,” England said.

These programs include a Pay As You Earn repayment plan, which “limits your payment to a percentage of your discretionary income, so it could stretch out the payment period depending on what your income is, but it could also make the payment more manageable for students,” England said.

Those approved have up to 20 years after their graduation to repay their debt. After 20 years of monthly payments, any remaining debt would be forgiven or discharged.

Another program, Public Service Loan Forgiveness, is for people who work in qualifying government or nonprofit organizations. After 120 payments under a qualified repayment program, the remaining student loan balance is forgiven.

With the growing efforts to increase the graduation rate within the CSU system, CSUF remains optimistic.

“We’re moving in the right direction, but we have a distance yet to go,” President Mildred García said in a statement on the CSUF website.

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