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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Unseen Costs: The Experiences of Workersand Learners in Los Angeles County

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Today, over half of college students work. Their experiences as workers and learners are impacted by increasing college costs and often exorbitant living expenses, and compounded by low wages. Meanwhile, state funding for public institutions has decreased dramatically: in 2017, it was nearly $9 billion less than in 2008. Tuition and fees have increased across every institution of public higher education in California. Financial aid rarely covers the educational expenses of workers and learners, and students generally face an acute funding gap. Workers and learners are concentrated in the low-wage service economy, and nine out of 10 worked more than 15 hours a week. Many simply lack the resources to pay for their tuition and fees, books, other necessary supplies, housing, and utilities.

Yet this emerging reality has not produced a systematic infrastructure that might provide support and necessary accommodations for workers and learners. In fact, their schoolwork and engagement with academic opportunities suffers for their work commitments, and they are often penalized at work for attempting to meet their scholarly obligations and schedules.

This report explores how workers and learners in Los Angeles’ public colleges and universities experience the competing demands of school and the workplace as they prepare for careers. We used a participatory and research justice approach, and worked with students, workers, and community partners to collect and analyze the data.

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