SANTA ROSA (KPIX) — Students from working class families have been grappling with the question of whether they can still afford to start — or continue with — their higher education during the pandemic.
As some students struggle to keep their college dreams alive, there are Bay Area campuses that are campaigning to keep them from dropping out.READ MORE: Oakland Ties 2020 Homicide Total in First 9 Months of 2021
Ingri Mendoza of Oakland considered not applying to her dream college after her Dad’s work hours dropped.
“If I do get into one, and look at the financial part, it’s like, ‘I can’t attend it,’ and it’s going to be such a disappointment,” Mendoza said.
People of color, low income, and first-generation college students are among the hardest-hit in the pandemic.
“There was a decline in black and Latino enrollment at the JC as well as community colleges throughout the state,” said Santa Rosa Junior College President Dr. Frank Chong.
Enrollment dropped 12 percent in California community colleges over last year. The decline was 15 percent at Santa Rosa JC.
Soccer player Eric Guzman didn’t know if he could afford to keep going to school.
“My parents are farmworkers, I know they got laid off when shelter in place happened,” Guzman explained.
He and his brother got jobs helping kids with their homework at the community center. And he applied for — and received — school grants.
“I know a lot of friends that dropped out during the pandemic. I’m just thankful I’ve been able to stay in school,” Guzman said.
A statewide snapshot highlights the hardships among 100,000 students who applied for federal and state financial aid.
Six in ten say their living situation changed in the last year.
Nearly half report their housing costs increased, leading them to reducing their course load. Four in ten cared for other family members, which disrupted their ability to attend class and do homework.
At Santa Rosa JC, a multi-pronged approach helps students like Delashay Carmona Benson.
“I had to drop all my classes,” she said.
Virtual learning proved nearly impossible.READ MORE: Advocates for Immigrant Rights March From Santa Rosa to Healdsburg
“I didn’t have great WiFi. I didn’t have a good computer,” said Benson, who’s also president of the Black Student Union on campus.
In addition, five of her six children — with six grandchildren — moved back in with her for a time.
“It was just like, I’m not going to make it,” she explained.
The school provided what she needed: food, emergency funds, and a computer and hotspot so she could resume her classes.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Regina Mahiri, coordinator at the Black Student Support Center.
“We have housing insecurity, food insecurity, we have the need for laptops,” she said.
The school hosts food giveaways for more than 400 students and community members each month.
It has loaned hundreds of laptops, provided millions of dollars in emergency financial assistance, and offered mental health services, and hotel vouchers for homeless students.
Oftentimes, students aren’t even aware of free resources they can use, according to Michael Lemus of the California Student Aid Commission, the statewide government agency that administers financial aid.
For the first time it’s leading online workshops that teach more students how to apply for state and federal grants.
“There is money available. Here in California, we’re fortunate also that there is aid available for undocumented students, for DACA students,” Lemus said.
Dr. Chong said Santa Rosa Junior College is doing everything it can to keep its 26,000 students. In fact, 45 percent of its students qualify for free tuition.
“Your education cannot wait. Pursue your dreams. We’re here to help you,” said Dr. Chong.
As for Ingri Mendoza, she got accepted to her dream school: UCLA.
“To even have that as my reality, it’s just taking me by surprise,” she said.
And with the help of federal grants, and scholarships, she’s now the first in her family to go to college.MORE NEWS: Pelosi Expects House to Pass Infrastructure Bill This Week
The new financial aid cycle starts on October 2 and runs through March 2. For information and workshops on applying for federal and state aid that includes funds for undocumented students in California, go to the California Student Aid Commission website.