Campus Cost-Coping 

From full-time jobs to dumpster diving, Cal students struggle to keep out of debt.

Javier Tenorio didn't want to be saddled with student loan debt, so he resolved to work his way through college. A month ago, using his black Chevrolet Silverado pickup, the 23-year-old Cal business major and Stockton native started a moving business with classmate Jared Wooldridge, 21, of Pleasant Hill. They advertise on sites such as Craigslist, student work portal, and social networking site Facebook. On the side, the business partners work full-time jobs for a total of sixty hours per week, all while taking summer school classes.

"It can be draining," Wooldridge admits, sitting with Tenorio at an Emeryville Starbucks. "The best thing to do is to have a goal system, so you can always see the light at the end of the tunnel. That really helps."

In light of increasing tuition and other costs to attend UC Berkeley, students like Wooldridge and Tenorio find themselves hustling to make ends meet. Higher costs have made it more challenging for students from middle-class and lower-income backgrounds to attend Cal. And financial aid hasn't kept up with the increases. As a result, some students are forced to work extra jobs to make ends meet.

"They're studying at the top public school in the nation, so that's crazy," said Angela Lintz, director of higher education programs at Level Playing Field Institute, a San Francisco nonprofit that runs the IDEAL Scholars program. "They're competing with kids whose parents are doctors and lawyers and studying full-time. ... It's very hard to keep up."

IDEAL Scholars was started seven years ago to give services and financial support to minority undergrads at Cal. This year, the fund is helping 62 students, but Lintz says many more need financial help. About 32 percent of UC Berkeley undergrads get Pell Grants for people with low incomes, according to Cheryl Resh of the campus financial aid department. Most of those families make less than $45,000 a year, she says.

At present, Tenorio works 48 hours a week at a data center, and another ten-plus hours for his moving business. He and Wooldridge charge $30 per hour to shuttle items from places such as Home Depot or IKEA, and then $25 per hour per person for moving them. When the semester starts, Tenorio estimates he'll cut back to 35 or 40 hours of work per week. Wooldridge also works full-time at Staples, where he makes $11 an hour, and he plans to continue working 60 hours into the fall.

It's not as though the two have no other financial assistance. Tenorio receives scholarships and grants. He also joined the military when he was seventeen in order to receive $45,000 for college. But with roughly $20,000 in annual expenses, he says that leaves a big shortfall. Wooldridge, who receives $2,000 per semester from a scholarship offered by Staples, spent three years at a community college, and took a semester off to work full-time and save. But neither has taken out any loans, and they plan to keep it that way.

Many other students who aren't in such dire financial straits still work. Dhara Desai and Sumedh Inamdar, both third-year students, say they have to work part-time jobs on campus at $10 per hour, although they feel the aid offered by the university is sufficient. They say the majority of their friends have parents who pay their fees. Desai, originally from Santa Rosa, gets scholarships and grants and hasn't taken out any loans. Living with her brother has helped her offset costs. "I get paid pretty well and I have scholarships to last me four years," she says, but adds, "I think if I didn't have a job my life would definitely be better."

Ben Smith, 26, was just passing Sather Gate with reporting forms for one of his scholarships. "I'm always running short," notes the fourth-year philosophy major from Bakersfield. Smith says he's taken out at least three emergency loans, which offer a $650 maximum and must be repaid within two months. To cut costs, he says he eats less and cooks at home: "It's a constant worry, second only to my courseload." He thinks the middle class gets screwed because rich families can afford to pay the tuition, while low-income families qualify for financial aid. "There's a large segment in the middle that doesn't qualify for either," he laments.

With housing costs high, some students rely on co-op living or cheaper housing farther from campus. Jennifer Heller, communications coordinator for the University Students' Cooperative Association, says there's a very long waiting list for fall, "one of our longer ones in recent years." Co-op residents pay from $440 to $750 a month, which includes some meals and utilities. In the summer months, it's even cheaper — as low as $280 a month if you share a room.

But for some Cal students, the concept of affordable housing is but a distant memory.

Perhaps no segment of UC Berkeley's student population struggles more than the family housing residents at University Village. Take Joseph Scalice, a thirty-year-old doctoral student. Scalice, who lives with his wife and three young children, has taken to extreme measures to cover his rent, which he estimates is 90 to 95 percent of his income. He and his wife, also a student, have been dumpster diving to find things to sell on eBay and Craigslist. In the last year, he began opening credit and bank accounts that offered promotions such as $100 gift cards, and then quickly closing them to avoid incurring fees. He estimates he has opened and closed roughly eighty such accounts. Meanwhile, they live extremely frugally. The family spends just $150 a month on groceries by diligently clipping coupons.


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