A new Cost Of Living Supplement at UCSF is meant to address the increasingly expensive housing of San Francisco, as highlighted by results of a 2015 survey conducted by the UCSF financial aid office.

A new Cost Of Living Supplement at UCSF is meant to address the increasingly expensive housing of San Francisco, as highlighted by results of a 2015 survey conducted by the UCSF financial aid office.

New Funding Meant to Bridge the Housing Gap

Contributor
School of Medicine

Even though San Francisco is by some measures the most desirable place to live in the world, first-year medical student Adriana Martinez can not wait to move. 

“Right now, I’m just going to suck it up and live here for my second year, until I can move for clerkships [in the third year of medical school].”

Martinez’s partner is moving to the East Bay next year for medical residency, and though she will not deny that the separation will be hard emotionally, Martinez says that it will also increase the amount of money she spends on rent. Though she loves living in the city, the relatively cheaper cost of living beckons from across the Bay.

The new Cost of Living Supplement (COLS) program from UCSF aims to provide some students with a little more help paying rent in an area with astronomical housing costs. The program would pay a lump sum of $2,400 in the fall to students who apply and the Financial Aid office deems in need.

Initially announced in an all-student email on March 15 from Vice-Chancellor of Student Academic Affairs Elizabeth Watkins, the program will roll out in prototype form in the fall of 2016, for which applications will open on May 1.

In an interview with Synapse, Vice-Chancellor Watkins emphasized that COLS is part of a broader University housing plan, outlined by Chancellor Sam Hawgood in his recent State of the University address. Watkins said that more campus housing is in the works (as Synapse reported earlier) but she and other Deans wanted some short-term relief for students as well.

“For several years, housing has turned away hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of students,” Watkins said. “We got to a point where we were confident about housing in the future, but wanted to do something for the students right now.”

Watkins explained that the program serves the dual aim of giving current students some amount of financial help, as well as addressing an issue that has been turning off prospective students.

Fully acknowledging the program’s role as a prospective recruiting tool, Watkins said that students have increasingly been passing up UCSF for other institutions based on worries about cost of living, especially with students of lower socio-economic status and minority applicants.

“We hope it’ll help programs [at UCSF] when we’re recruiting the best and brightest students,” Watkins explained, not only the well-off ones.

Notably, the COLS program will only be open to students living off-campus, who are enrolled full-time and who live in the Bay Area. Award of the lump sum will also be need-based, as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Watkins explained that the need-based nature of the program was a requirement from Chancellor Hawgood, as was the common application using the FAFSA.

“This really goes to the idea of ‘One UCSF,’” Watkins explained. “We don’t want to treat students from the different schools differently.”

This application process is worrying for Ken Hallenbeck, president of the Associated Students of the Graduate Division (ASGD). Graduate students who are fully funded do not usually fill out a FAFSA, and Hallenbeck says that, for busy students, completing one may be a hurdle.

“I think a lot of grad students won’t do it,” Hallenbeck said. “That might hurt people that need the support.”

Though graduate students are paid a stipend, often that is not enough to cover ever-increasing San Francisco housing costs, Hallenbeck continued. While he appreciates the acknowledgement of student housing concerns, he wonders if the program does enough to address student needs.

“I don’t think it’s possible to understate how important housing is at UCSF.”

Asked where the $2,400 figure came from, Vice-Chancellor Watkins said the COLS working group — which consists of her, Executive Vice-Chancellor and Provost Dan Lowenstein and the deans of all of UCSF’s programs — wanted to help as many students as possible, while making the supplement meaningful.

“It’s not a huge amount, we get that, but this is a reasonable amount for the resources that we have.”

The COLS funding comes from an account worth $3.6 million this year, made up of a large anonymous gift and contributions from the professional programs and UCSF Health. That works out to funding 1,500 students this year, roughly half of the University’s enrollment. The amount of funding may vary from year to year, depending on the size of the account and the demand from students.

For Adriana Martinez, facing paying a rent by herself next year, every little bit helps. She plans to apply to the COLS program.

“I think it’s great that [the administration] is acknowledging that there’s a problem,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s enough, but anything would help.”

Vice-Chancellor Watkins will hold two Town Hall meetings on the new Cost of Living Supplement program.

The first will be at Mission Bay in Genentech Hall, Byers Auditorium on Monday, May 9, from 12 to 1 p.m. The second will be at the Parnassus campus, in Health Sciences West, room 301, on Tuesday, May 10, 12 to 1 p.m.

Students can email colsquestions@ucsf.edu for more information on the COLS program.