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How much does college really cost? California wants to find out




Students walk on campus at West Los Angeles College in Los Angeles, Calif. on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016.
Students walk on campus at West Los Angeles College in Los Angeles, Calif. on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016.
Susanica Tam/For KPCC

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University of California students can breathe a sigh of relief. The UC Board of Regents postponed a vote until May that would raise annual tuition by $342. However, a lot of college students across the state still struggle to afford school. To find out the true cost of getting a higher education in the state, the California Student Aid Commission is sponsoring a survey this year.

The Student Expense and Resources Survey will reach out to 100,000 students at as many as 380 campuses. Lupita Cortez Alcalá is the executive director of the Student Aid Commission. She led the charge on bringing back the survey after it was dormant for 12 years due to budget cuts.

Alcalá spoke with Take Two's A Martinez about how the survey will help paint a more accurate picture of today's student's needs and cost of living.

How cost has been measured since 2006

Educational institutions have been trying to keep up by releasing surveys every few years that probe students on housing, food, technology, etc. But overall, the cost of being a California student has been assessed with a blanket method for 12 years.

"We've been using the consumer price index and just adding a small increase to it every year, and we just don't know that's the true cost because now you're seeing a resurgence of food insecurity and housing insecurity. Students are living on other people's couches. They're having to go to food pantries on campuses, they're having to get emergency loans on campus for things that are unexpected..."

This method does not give an accurate portrayal of student's housing, food and technology costs. So the goal of the SEAR survey is to figure out what the actual cost is so financial aid programs can meet it.

It's a new era

In the old days, it was a paper survey done on a scantron. To usher in the new era, the survey will use technology.

"Well, we're definitely doing an online platform..." Alcala said. "Now it'll be a mobile-friendly app that they can do at home or in the library. They don't have to go to a particular computer so that's definitely evolved."

By making the survey more accessible, the student aid commission hopes it will encourage more responses and by extension more aid to those who truly need it.

Means of obtaining this information aren't the only things that are changing, questions about living situations and necessities are being updated as well.

The overall goal is to increase aid

The survey is set to be administered in late March or April with the goal of having the results and analysis take place through summer and be applied in the 2019-20 school year. 

"What we hope to do is shed some light on the true cost of attendance and hopefully continue a policy discussion on the state focusing on tuition and fees as our main assistance, which is very generous...but it doesn't really focus on living and the tuition and room and board..."