The steadily increasing national inflation rate has left some students struggling to afford everyday living expenses, requiring them to sacrifice time previously devoted to themselves and their coursework in hopes of finding financial stability.
Prices for most goods and services, including those of groceries and housing, have increased rapidly over the past two years due to the pandemic’s influence on consumer spending patterns, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics† As a result, inflation grew from 6.8% in 2021 to 8.3% as of April 2022, representing the largest annual increase since 1981.
For junior political science major Joseph Burch, affording increased housing and transportation costs in Tampa has meant working over 50 hours a week while completing his courses asynchronously. He added that alongside his regular job, an inability to afford clothing and food expenses also motivated him to resell merchandise online in his free time.
Although working longer hours has allowed him to keep up with his rent and car payments, Burch said a lack of long-term financial security has harmed not only his mental health and personal relationships, but his hopes to continue his education proceeding into the future.
“I am at a point where I have to work and be savvy or else I can’t afford college. This doesn’t even account for how inflation has risen on almost all goods and services in Tampa Bay’s economy or how much it affects students with limited financial assistance from USF or family,” he said.
“I have no social life outside of my [two] roommates, I beg my parents to buy me clothes [and] I apply for tons of scholarships, even when I’m not remotely qualified, on the off chance that I might be rewarded by mistake.”
The minimum wage for the average working adult in Florida is considerably less than the living wage, or what is required to afford standard goods under the current economic climate, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator† Despite the average worker requiring a minimum of $17.24 an hour to afford basic necessities, Florida’s minimum wage currently sits at $10 an hour.
In addition to global supply chain shortages, an increase in gas prices was exacerbated by the US government’s attempts to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to The Washington Post†
Given Russia’s position as one of the world’s largest producers of oil, The Post added attempts to restrict the country’s ability to sell energy increased domestic costs of gasoline considerably, with prices currently remaining over $4 a gallon throughout most of the US.
Junior history major Delaney Roque said for herself and other students that make daily commutes to campus, USF’s push to return to in-person modalities is not economically feasible because of rising fuel costs.
As her department requires students taking upper-level seminars to travel between the St. Pete and Tampa campuses, she said she is concerned about whether she will be able to afford transportation expenses next semester.
To reduce the financial burden of commuting students, Roque proposed that USF should be involved in providing financial assistance. She said her ideal solution would not only take into account the current cost of gas, but its negative impact upon those experiencing extreme financial insecurity.
“As a commuter, these rising gas prices have me extremely worried. Potentially sacrificing my academic career to work a few more hours just to be able to afford fuel to go to class during the week is a frequent stressor,” Roque said.
“I really encourage USF to explore the idea of a gas stipend for commuting students, especially those receiving need-based aid grants. Lower income students should not have to worry about being priced out of higher education.”
Some students employed by the university have also struggled to afford increased costs of living due to wage stagnation. Graduate student Maria White said about the past five years she has worked at USF, her wages have not increased despite herself and fellow graduate students working over three times the amount of hours expected of them weekly.
The mental health of many graduate students will continue to suffer without a steady source of income that accommodates increases in the national inflation rate, according to White. She said the solution to the financial burden of student employees is to require the university to pay them proportionally.
“This has been hugely mentally taxing and I can’t help but think that paying [graduate students] a decent wage would be the number one thing to improve our mental health,” she said. “We’re being paid for 20 hours of work when in reality we work three times that unpaid, and this is work that brings the university millions in grants and prestige.”
In contrast to White, fellow student employee and junior psychology major Paige Turner said having the university make wage increases for employees is requesting the bare minimum.
To account for the countless hours students have sacrificed to be able to afford increased costs of basic necessities, she said implementing stipends for essential living costs would alleviate many of the financial concerns students currently share.
“To help with financial burdens, on-campus jobs should be giving students a pay increase starting at a minimum of $15 an hour, although I hope that number would increase well and frequently,” she said. “For all students, USF should give those that fill out financial need forms stipends for money, gas and groceries at no cost to us in the future … it would undoubtedly be helpful.”
Current market trends show that the national inflation rate is not expected to decrease until 2023, according to CNN† Unless supply chain shortages are appropriately addressed by policy makers in the near future, financial struggles among students are presumed to worsen in coming months.