In California, students are struggling more with living expenses instead of with the costs of education. 

Attending college in California is a dream for many students but for most, it’s also financially unrealistic. However, it’s not the high tuition costs that make most schools unattainable but the fact that California has some of the highest cost-of-living expenses in the country. 

Although tuition costs have tripled since 1992, California public universities are surprisingly generous when it comes to covering these costs, CALmatters reported. For instance, University of California schools cover tuition for families earning less than $80,000 a year. At California State University (CSU), three out of four students receiving financial aid don’t pay any tuition costs. Many California schools appear in The Student Loan Report’s list of top public schools for freshman financial aid.

What many California college students are surprised to discover is that living expenses are the true burden. In the last 10 years, the median rent in California has risen 44 percent.

Yet the maximum amount of financial aid awarded to low-income students has risen only 8 percent. Pell Grants used to cover 80 percent of an in-state student’s tuition costs; now they only cover 30 percent.

Food insecurity is a real problem on college campuses; studies have shown that 36 percent of students struggle with getting enough to eat, according to a recent study by Wisconsin HOPE Lab cited in a prior post by The Student Loan Report.

According to Amy Rose, a policy analyst at the California Budget and Policy Center, financial strain often causes students to fall behind in school. Many are forced to drop classes or skip entire, which means they take longer to graduate. 

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Rose recently wrote a report on the barriers most students face when it comes to higher education. Her report recommended that colleges give low-income students more funding for non-tuition costs, like food and living expenses. Here’s a closer look at the average overall costs when paying for college.

Lupita Cortez Alcala is the director of the California Student Aid Commission, which runs the state’s financial aid programs. Alcala told CALmatters the goal of financial aid programs is to provide an opportunity to low-income students, not to cover 100 percent of their college expenses.

The California Student Aid Commission is in the process of conducting its own survey on non-tuition costs, something it hasn’t done in over a decade due to budget constraints. Alcala says the agency hopes to have results before the 2018-2019 school year begins. She also hopes these figures incentivize lawmakers to take action.

Many high education experts agree that better access to student housing is part of the solution. UC President Janet Napolitano told CALmatters their school is working on a housing initiative that will add 19,000 beds by the year 2020. And last year, the state budget allotted $7.5 million toward ending campus hunger.

Many experts agree that low-income students still need greater access to financial aid to cover non-tuition costs and pay for college. Debbie Cochrane, vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success, told CALmatters these problems do have solutions. “It’s just a matter of garnering the political will to make it happen,” she said.