SAN JOSE STATE University placed in the nation’s top 10 most affordable colleges in a recent study, but the ranking is raising eyebrows among advocates wondering how that is possible.

A Credit Summit study names SJSU as the eighth most affordable college out of 25 in major U.S. college cities. Advocates said while the university may be an affordable option among local colleges, when you factor in the high cost of living in the region, that number doesn’t pencil out on a national scale. SJSU has a student population of about 36,000.

“It’s not matching up to the reality of our students and does not match up to the reality of San Jose,” Scott Myers-Lipton, SJSU sociology professor and lead author of the Silicon Valley Pain Index, told San José Spotlight.

The study used several factors to determine overall monthly costs for students, including tuition and housing. It found that San Jose State University students spend an estimated $3,899 a month based on a review of tuition, housing, food, utilities, Wi-Fi and gyms. The most affordable college on the list, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, has an estimated monthly cost of $3,074 per student. The most expensive school on the list was University at Buffalo, at $4,552 per month.

‘They’re literally on top of each other’

Myers-Lipton said the numbers don’t add up. The study estimates student housing, utilities and Wi-Fi to be about $819 per month. He said data for spring 2023 reveals that an on-campus apartment for three students — the least expensive option per semester — costs one student $5,624 per semester, or about $1,125 per month.

“My students do pack themselves into places to drive down rent,” Myers-Lipton told San José Spotlight. “They have six, seven, eight in a two-bedroom (apartment). … They’re literally on top of each other.”

“I’m just kind of barely scraping by. There’s a bunch of smaller costs that do add up.”

Anthony Majano, San Jose State University Student Homeless Alliance

Anthony Majano, president of the San Jose State University Student Homeless Alliance, said housing is a significant expense for students when factoring in total costs. Students struggle to obtain affordable on-campus and off-campus housing. A 2021 survey found that SJSU has a student homeless population of 11.2 percent. In recent years, students pushed for the university to increase emergency beds and the college is developing its Campus Village 3 project, which could provide up to 1,000 beds for students.

Majano said paying for college is rough even without housing costs. He said many SJSU students commute to school and deal with high gas prices. His goal is to graduate college free of debt, working a part-time job to help cover his education, he said.

“I’m just kind of barely scraping by,” Majano, a sociology student, told San José Spotlight. “There’s a bunch of smaller costs that do add up.”

In a pricey place

Joint Venture Silicon Valley CEO Russell Hancock said schools like SJSU are an affordable option in the region and responsible for graduating a big portion of Silicon Valley’s workforce. He said making college more accessible is key to keeping that momentum going. The college’s approach to building more on-campus housing for students, especially homeless students, is a good step, he added.

“Everybody here understands that housing is through the roof,” Hancock told San José Spotlight. “We’re going to continue being a high-cost region and that’s always going to be our Achilles heel.”

Majano said the study needs to highlight the real cost of housing in unaffordable cities, and factor that in even if students attend affordable colleges. SJSU is located in one of the most expensive places to live in the nation, and he said that takes a toll on students.

“There’s really not much safety nets, programs or resources available for students to be able to successfully afford to live here without having to have a bunch of roommates, without having to have multiple jobs,” he said.

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.