By Anika Van Eaton
on June 26, 2020
uAspire held a Congressional briefing with legislators, students, advocates, and policy experts Thursday to address the challenge of making a college degree an affordable reality for students. Over 180 people attended the virtual briefing sponsored by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-7) with uAspire student advocates and researchers to share findings from Beyond the College Bill: The Hidden Hurdles of Indirect Expenses.
“In this moment of unprecedented hurt and harm, we have the opportunity to change course,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “Back to normal—that’s not what we want. We cannot return to a status quo normal that was insufficient, unjust, and inadequate to begin with. I know that in partnership with uAspire and students like yourselves, we can, we will, and we must do better.”
Beyond the College Bill examines how colleges calculate and communicate indirect expenses and how students struggle to afford them. The study draws on data analysis from over 800 colleges and the lived experiences of over 150 students to show how indirect expenses are hard to find and create hardships for students. uAspire researcher Brendan Williams shared, “Thirty-nine percent [of colleges analyzed] did not include any indirect expense information at all. Among those that did, we found 52 different terms representing that category.”
There are examples of ways to support students with these costs. Some institutions are subsidizing public transportation and replacing textbooks with Open Educational Resources, or establishing on-campus food pantries. Tacoma Community Colleges partners with the Tacoma Housing Authority to provide subsidized housing for 150 homeless and near homeless students, most of whom are parents.
uAspire Student Advocacy Fellows offered advice and solutions. Debbie, a fellow from Pennsylvania, called for increased transparency in the communication of costs to students., “Indirect expenses should be accurately calculated and effectively communicated as part of the cost of attendance for all colleges and universities,” Debbie said. “When indirect expenses are accurately calculated, we will be able to properly plan for these costs and are more likely to receive enough aid to afford them.”
As a student in Santa Cruz, California, facing high costs of living, Ruby, explained, “Lowering the cost of on-campus housing at UCSC can help lower the cost of housing in the surrounding area, making rent more affordable for both students and the community members of Santa Cruz.”
Fellows also explained the need to increase the campus resources available to students, and to make sure students are aware of them. Junie, a Massachusetts fellow, shared, “I believe that allowing students to use their SNAP benefits to purchase food [on campus] is a great idea, since a lot of students don’t even know that they qualify for SNAP benefits.”
Two policy experts closed the briefing with calls to action on systemic policy changes. Tiffany Jones of EdTrust advocated that the federal government at least double the Pell Grant, so that it can cover at least half of the full cost of attendance at a public four-year college. Carrie Welton of the HOPE Center called for conversations about universal, basic income, that should include conversations about reparations and closing the equity gap.
This briefing kicks off the next phase of vital work to change systems. uAspire invited attendees to engage in roundtables in the fall to promote actions for change. Over 50 individuals signed up and we invite you to the same by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.