Coming Together as a Community to Tackle Student Debt

By Lateisha Howe


Student debt has been the talk of the town for some time now and even with the Free City program at City College there is no escaping the high cost of living for many students in the Bay Area. Recently Trustee Board Member Aliya Chisti took an innovative approach into opening up her office hours for students to come together and find solutions as a community.


“I am really interested in student debt and I have been chipping at this issue for a few months very slowly. We brought it up in committees and talked about it multiple times. We identified that there are about 750 students who dropped during the pandemic and have registered but not enrolled,” said Chisti.


While there has been a back and forth debate about student debt forgiveness, Chisti said, “It’s not about just forgiving everyone’s debt that is important, it’s about what we do differently, so that things are not in that position in the first place. There must be a lag somewhere with something, that they end up with a debt. And if they do have a debt do we have an appeal process for them?”

Illustration by JT Wildfeuer with photography from Trustee Chisti’s Twitter profile.


While at City College tuition is free, the total cost for attendance is much higher when we factor in transportation, accommodation, and other basic human needs. Chisti described her own journey navigating the high costs of education. “Student debt is such a big barrier. It feels like a catch-22. I grew up as a low income student, so I got the Pell grant, I got all of those things, which was really helpful, but you still needed student loans. When I finished college, I didn’t get a job immediately. And all those student loans were just piling up and I wanted to figure out if students make this investment, how do we make sure they are set up for success?”


Coming together as a community for student voices to be heard and dispelling the invisible wall that separates students from administration may be part of the solution we need to succeed. Chisti said, “I think we need better communication with all of the different groups. I think that student voices need to be in every space. Each and every space. And I really want there to be improved collegiality with everyone. More improved communication. Collegiality. Healing. Coming together as a college.”


In response to the recent $10,000 student debt cancellation by the Biden Administration, Chisti said “I think it’s better than nothing, it’s going to help a very specific demographic of students. The average amount that students do have is not a high amount, it is around $20,000. So I think it will help a specific group of students. It’s a chip at a bigger issue.”


While City College has been hit from multiple angles within the past years, such as the recent faculty layoffs, Chisti believes that CCSF will be around for many years to come and continue to thrive once again. “I really believe in the mission of City College. I really love San Francisco and I believe this space makes a huge impact. To me it’s a community for everyone. A way to reach their potential. Regardless of where they are in their life. I don’t think that’s word for word what the mission is, but it’s the essence of it. And for us to have open access, and to help everyone reach their goal whatever that is. Maybe it’s one painting class or maybe it’s to go to a four year institution. I think that’s the essence of City College,” she said.


“As a board member we represent everybody. We have all these different folks we have to take into account. But I do think the student’s experience and hearing that is important and that’s why I have office hours,” said Chisti, who has recently set up an open invitation for drop-in office hours that can be scheduled  with her through her Calendly Calendar.

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