Native Son

Page 22

SBCC Foundation Helps Hundreds of Students With Financial Burden


by Valerie van den Broek

hese days, Geoff Green’s bed is more than just a place to sleep. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s now his office. Since he also sleeps there, he spends about 20 hours a day in his bedroom, exiting the cave only to eat or spend time with his family. His life is consumed by not only surviving the pandemic but by helping others to do the same – mainly, the students at Santa Barbara City College. As hundreds of students lost jobs and struggled to pay rent and bills due to COVID, the SBCC Foundation created the largest emergency grant in its history to help students affected by the pandemic. A little over $2 million was distributed. “What can we do to bridge the gap?” Green said. “What can we do in that one-month period?” Santa Barbara City College Superintendent President Utpal Goswami announced on March 13, 2020 that all classes would be moved online to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which, for many students, was not only a rapid but a consequential change. According to The Hope Center, due to the pandemic, 44 percent of students at two-year colleges reported food insecurity, 11 percent experienced homelessness and 50 percent of students reported having moderate anxiety and struggled to concentrate on their education.

received roughly 900 requests for an emergency grant. “We asked simple questions,” Green said. “We just wanted them to tell us what they needed.” The foundation received over 2,300 requests in little less than a month. As one of the biggest college foundations in the nation, they provided students with up to $1,000 to help with living costs – rent, groceries, or anything to help tide them over during these hard times and was distributed via checks, direct deposit, and occasionally Venmo and PayPal.

“[The pandemic] changes how you interact with people,” Green said. “We are figuring it out.”

Geoff Green (Courtesy of the SBCC Foundation)

The Foundation began brainstorming ways to assist students who are in need after the pandemic began. “We jumped on it and we formed it from scratch,” said SBCC Promise assistant Wendy Aguilera. “We started to receive applications in English and Spanish.” About two weeks after the pandemic hit Santa Barbara, the Foundation made sure the grant was accessible while figuring out what else students would need. From housing to childcare to technology to help with online education, the grant was created to ease any financial burdens. Within 24 hours, the foundation

However, there are limits. “Budget problems were created by the pandemic,” Green said. “We had to make cuts in next year’s budget.” The operating deficit is roughly just under $475,000. The main purpose of the emergency grant was for students to be able to stay enrolled and finish strong as they struggle through the pandemic. “A lot of students come in with a lot of layers,” said SBCC Promise manager Sergio A. Lagunas. “Some need to drop out because of family or they lose their job.” The SBCC Promise was created by the Foundation to help local incoming students for two uninterrupted years after they complete high school, GED, or the equivalent. The Promise covers tuition, books, course materials, and

other mandatory fees. But due to the pandemic, many students may need to drop out for a while to help out their families and themselves, which can lead to loss of their Promise grant. “We understand if students need to step away,” Lagunas said. “We review through an appeal process and review their circumstances, there’s a big chance they will get back.” If City College will open up again, classes are planned to be smaller than they were in the past, said Superintendent President Goswami during the online SBCC Foundation COVID conversations. The emergency grants come at a time when colleges and universities are struggling to hold on to their students, who in March were upended by the pandemic. Many students are fearful of remote learning and are looking to take time off from school until the pandemic passes and people can return to the classroom. For Santa Barbara City College, the situation is even more dire. The college has traditionally attracted students from around the world, but now international enrollment is down and the college is trying to figure out a way to boost enrollment, while also dealing with its own budget challenges. “We are still thinking that we will be somewhere around where we thought we would be in terms of resident students,” Goswami said. “For nonresident students, we have predicted a roughly 20 to 30 percent decline, especially for international students.” Despite the projected enrollment decline and budget deficits, Green and the SBCC Foundation are working hard to keep ties intact. All from home and the same room in which Green sleeps. Which these days, is not enough. •MJ

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