Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nursing student: “The most important lesson I learned is that college is a privilege, not a right.”

By Ashley Lee

Wendy (last named undisclosed) is a second-year nursing student at UCI. During her first year here, UCI challenged her family’s claims of what they could pay toward her education, resulting in the loss of grants and loans, creating hardship for her parents and forcing her to take a job. By this point she had already turned down aid from other universities. When her parents’ income dropped dramatically due to the recession, however (they own a bakery), she was able to recoup some loans and grants.

Q: When did you find out about the budget cuts? When did you become aware of the budget cuts?

A: I was always conscious of the budget cuts. Every school seemed to go through budget cuts constantly. Even in high school, I was aware of the budget cuts to stay current with what was going on. I wanted to be prepared when I came to college. However, last summer is when I became completely aware of the budget cuts as I faced a huge ordeal with my financial aid.

Q: Tell me, what happened to you last year in terms of budget cuts? (i.e. financial aid, increased fees) What were you promised? What did you lose?

A: To begin with, UCI financial aid award comes out late. Due to budget cuts, the financial aid became stricter on the verification process of one’s assets. After turning in my FAFSA by March, I was later notified by the financial aid office in an email that even though they received my document on time I was chosen to go through an additional verification process. Here I had to fill out extra forms including a property verification form. My mom and uncle co-own a house for rent. When filling out the form we consulted how much the property would be, giving a reasonable estimate. However, UCI financial aid said that there was a discrepancy in the property ownership according to the program that the school used. They said our estimate was too low. Therefore, according to their calculations, our assets exceeded the base line for financial aid.

Before the verification process, I was promised $4,000 in grants and $6,000 in loans. My Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) was originally $16,000 and after going through the verification process it doubled ($32,000), resulting in all my grants and loans being stripped away. I was left with nothing, no options what so ever.

Q: What were your initial thoughts/reactions when your financial aid was being cut completely due to cuts?

A: I was very, very sad. The verification process was completely frustrating. I will never completely trust the financial aid office anymore. I was emotionally drained. When I called a friend to explain what had happened I started to cry. I was also upset with myself because I had rejected UC Davis, which gave me double the financial aid ($8,000). However, UC Davis did not have a nursing program.

Q: But wouldn’t you potentially run into the same problem with financial aid if you went to UC Davis?

A: Yes, but what are the chances. Since this ordeal happened at UCI, I am upset with UCI. I still regret not looking further into UC Davis. I was only looking at the program I wanted, I did not factor in which UC gave me more financial aid.

Q: What different options did you have to explore to overcome the burden?

A: City College of San Francisco became a realistic option for me. It costs less and I would not be putting a burden on my parents. I always wanted to be a nurse and the City College of San Francisco offered a nursing program. However, I felt that UCI’s nursing program is more established. But in the end, I could reach my goal if I attended City College.

However, my parents said that attending a UC it would benefit me more. By attending a UC right out of high school, I would not have to deal with the difficult transition that transfer students face. My parents wanted me to excel in a university setting and therefore told me that as a family we had to work super hard and that I needed to get a job. In the mean time, we have to dig into our savings, manage what we could. Do whatever we could to make ends meet.”

Q: Do you see yourself staying all four years at UCI?

A: Yes, hopefully. The four-year nursing program at UCI is a great. I love the campus and the nursing community really does care for it students. I feel like I have a place here at UCI. The nursing program creates an intimate setting, as I was one of 35 students chosen for the program in my freshmen year. At this point, it would be difficult to change school and I would be losing out on a program and a community that I could not get anywhere else.

Q: What have you learned from the experience?

A: From this experience, I understand how budget cuts affect one individual. It never donned on me how much of my life has changed. I feel that I have grown up faster than expected as I have more responsibility. Out of my circle of friends, I have matured the most, as I am better with financial handling. However, the most important lesson I learned is that college is a privilege not a right.

Q: With the ordeal you had last year, what have you done differently this year to prepare for the continued lack of funding? Did you receive any financial aid this year?

A: This year, I looked more intensively for a job. In the summer, I found a job tutoring children. I was also able to get an on campus job at the Bren Events Center as an event staffer where I sell food at sporting events, or do general cleanup.

Surprisingly, I did receive financial aid this year. I received 4,000 in grants and accepted a $5,000 loan. This was the first loan that I accepted. It was a subsidizing loan, which means interest starts occurring after graduation. Though I am grateful for receiving financial aid, I am still facing the repercussions from last year.

Q: But, wait, how did you receive financial aid if you reported your property?

A: The major reason why I received financial aid this year was that my parent’s income dramatically dropped. My parents own a bakery. With the current economic recession, life becomes unstable to the point where making a decent living is challenging. Plus, trying to pay for college takes a big chunk out of their income.

Q: With supporting yourself through school and work, do you find yourself stressed and overwhelmed?

A: Actually, I have recently joined a sports team as well. I joined dragonboat last year so I am juggling three major commitments. When there is a race coming up for dragon boat, practices are on Saturday and Sunday from 9:30-3:00. Once I am home, I am too tired to do anything. My whole weekend is devoted to dragonboat that I have barely any time to do homework. In addition, I have work at the Bren Events Center. They provide a monthly schedule where we get to pick our hours. However, the hours and days offered are inconvenient as the only option are four to six hour shifts on Fridays and Saturdays. It becomes a burden for me as shuttles to my apartment do not run on Friday nights or the weekend and I have to depend on a friend to drive me home.

The last time I felt particularly overwhelmed was last quarter. I was taking 18 units, doing dragonboat and work. So this quarter, I am still working and doing dragon boat, but I am only taking 12 units. I felt that I could be more productive by only focusing on core classes. However, my classes are getting harder especially biology. I have this fear that I might fail biology, which would hold me back a year and therefore continue my financial burden. With these thought constantly on my mind, I can say that I am completely overwhelmed. Also it does not help that I am sick right now and I have a midterm on Friday.

Q: How easy was it to find an on campus job? How long were you looking for an on campus job?

A: Looking for a job is “hell.” It is so competitive and they fact that I did not any receive work-study made it that much more difficult. I feel that people who were given work-study have an edge because they are given priority. I had applied to 6-8 jobs and I either did not receive a response or I was not “qualified.” I was lucky to get the job at the Bren Events Center. I started to look for a job in the beginning of January and did not get a job until the fifth week of spring quarter.

Q: What sacrifices have you had to make socially to make ends meet? Do you feel you are missing out on the college experience?

A: I feel that I have not had to make a huge sacrifice on my social life. At times, I feel disappointed that I cannot fully experience the college life. I have had to skip out on bonding times with my friends as I do not go to the movies, go clubbing or eat out with as often. However, I have become more conscious of my money and how I spend it. I am truly understanding the value of a dollar and that my money needs to go toward necessities such as groceries. I have become more responsible and less spontaneous.

I have started to notice how careless my friends are with money because they are more financially stable. The value of a dollar is not on their minds as they can freely spend their money. It has not hit them yet that at any moment your money for school can be taken away without notice. Unless an ordeal like this has happened to you only then can you understand the principle of money.

Q: What are you hoping for the future? What are your plans?

A: My future plans are to graduate on time and work at least a year at Kaiser or at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center before going to graduate school. I hope to have a successful career in nursing although I do not know what I want to specialize in. In the future, I hope that when I have children I can pay for their education and they will never have to worry.

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