It’s a story of our times: college enrollment is the highest it’s been in the last 40 years, but the economic recession is the worst we’ve seen in as many decades.
For college students, this means fighting to stay in school, even if students have to choose between paying for tuition and books over rent and food. NPR reported this week on the story of Diego Sepulveda, a 22-year-old poli sci major at UCLA who’s getting by in college by sleeping in the library and on friends’ couches and showering in the campus gym. UCLA has created a crisis response team to help students stay in school and get help with basics like canned soup and toiletries.
It’s a totally conceivable picture. College campuses are big, open communities full of lots of amenities if you’ve got the right passwords—couches in 24-hour libraries, computers to get homework done, gyms with hot water and towels.
Of course, people who are homeless have long fought their way inside college classrooms. But colleges are noting an increase in the numbers of students who started on the other side of the line: students from working-class homes whose families have fallen through the cracks in the last few years.
What the NPR piece fails to mention is that college tuition is also on the rise—all of the UC campuses have raised their tuition costs nearly every year for the last five years. Last September, UC students up and down the state turned out for mass protests against another 32 percent increase in their tuition. Students in the state and community college systems are getting hit just as hard by fee hikes and reduced class options. (And don’t forget the decades of student debt that often follow graduation.) What once was an affordable college degree is becoming harder for students from working-class and low-income families to access.
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