Lawmaker urges possible overhaul in outreach

As a part of an ongoing UC-wide “listening tour,” State Sen. Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), visited UCSD on Nov. 16 to hear student leaders voice their concerns about the effect of budget cuts on education, especially in the areas of diversity and outreach, and to outline her goal of prioritizing higher education in California.

Speier’s interest in university budgets began last year, during renegotiations of a $200 million contract for state prison guards during a fiscal crisis, she said. At the same time, she received budget proposals that suggested diverting 7,000 UC-eligible students to save $45 million.

“Somehow, saving $45 million on one hand and breaking a promise to Californians while paying $200 million in salary increases didn’t make a lot of sense,” Speier said.

Speier said she hopes to redefine the structure of funding and goals for UC outreach programs in the future by focusing on younger children.

“We’ve funded outreach programs, and there’s no accountability. We don’t know where the money goes,” she said. “If it’s all about having [the UC system] go out to high school campuses and say ‘Hi, we’re here, come apply,’ it’s not going to change the number of minority students that are attending here. What is going to change it is if you can prepare them in grammar school.”

Student leaders, including members of the A.S. Council and the Student Affirmative Action Committee, were especially concerned about cuts in outreach programs such as student-initiated outreach. The program holds university conferences that aim to motivate local disadvantaged high school students to pursue a UC education. According to A.S. President Jenn Pae, student-initiated outreach holds six conferences annually that host 300 to 400 students, but the program has recently experienced large funding cuts.

Speier questioned the spending ethic of the program and said that the conferences could still be effective under a smaller budget.

“I think it’s a very valuable program, but if you spend $20 per student and you have 1,800 students, that’s just $36,000,” she said. “You can do a lot with $20 per student. Part of what state government is all about today is to do more with less.”

The student leaders also spoke on other outreach program cuts, such as Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson’s proposed budget reduction of Early Academic Outreach Program. EAOP’s proposed budget severely reduces the staff and service at local schools, SAAC chair Emily Leach said.

“We have a lot of theory going around on how to expand opportunities and increase enrollment, but the outreach programs keep getting cut,” Revelle College Senior Senator Ted McCombs said. “I get frustrated with the rhetoric on campus on how we value diversity while EAOP gets its budget cut by half.”

EAOP needs to come into direct contact with outreach students, according to Speier.

“I think we need to redefine it,” she said. “I think we’ve been doing it the same way for a long time. I would bet you that the conferences have a more profound effect than EAOP. I don’t think that just because something existed, that it is the answer to expanding access to the university. There are lots of different ways, and this is a lot of money [for EAOP].”

Students also expressed concern about the diversion of funds from UCSD to Preuss School, a university-run charter middle and high school.

“The problem we’re faced with is that the money allocated to the charter school is coming out of money that is supposed to be allocated to the university,” Pae said. “Having that $1 million commitment [to Preuss] jeopardizes student-initiated outreach and EAOP.”

McCombs questioned the usefulness of funding Preuss.

“I think the Preuss School is a wonderful idea, but I don’t know if the UC’s role is to take on the challenge of reforming how K-12 is done in San Diego,” McCombs said.

Speier, however, applauded the results of the school. Of the first graduating class, 91 percent went on to college, and 50 percent enrolled in a UC school, according to Speier.

“[The graduating class results] are stupendous,” she said. “If it could happen here, it could happen to any low-performing school in the state. It would give every first-generation child in a low-income home hope. It makes the case.”

Speier reiterated her outreach focus toward younger students by expressing support for funding tutors for low-income, low-performing children.

“We know that if you don’t take algebra by the time you’re in seventh grade, and you don’t take calculus by the time you’re in junior or senior year, you will not go on to the sciences,” Speier said. “And we know that the only jobs that are going to be worth their salt are going to be jobs that are math- and science-based. If we don’t prepare our kids to take on those jobs, we will be outsourcing jobs.”