Students feel effects of budget reductions

    Despite recent state budget cuts to higher education, annual college enrollment will increase by 837,000 students in California’s community colleges and universities by the year 2013, according to a recent report from the nonprofit organization Campaign for College Opportunity.

    The report includes opinions and ideas of more than 1,600 Californians from 400 organizations interviewed during the course of the group’s five-month “listening tour,” and is titled “Listen Up: Californians Respond to the College-Access Crisis.”

    “We wanted to hear from the frontline different ideas for solutions,” CCO Executive Director Abdi Soltani said. “It’s important for the state to reaffirm education for young people who want to pursue it.”

    CCO conducted its tour all over the state, seeking out parents, high schools, businesses, labor and religious leaders and community organizations in order to gain a wide perspective of how people have been affected by the state budget crisis and their ideas on college access.

    In the last several years, the state cuts have caused college classes to be canceled, reduced course offerings and fewer opportunities for students to interact with faculty, it stated.

    “We found that colleges need to provide more core courses, counselors and student services so students can get the classes they need to meet their goals and complete their majors on time,” Soltani said. “There was a strong consensus that we need additional state funding. The government needs to make higher education a top priority.”

    According to CCO Communications Director Elisa Bongiovanni, older interviewees generally agreed on the need for universal college opportunities for all students. She attributed that policy position to the state’s Master Plan for Education, enacted in 1960, which promises anyone who wants to go to college the chance to do so.

    Because of the current increase in students entering college — a jump referred to as “tidal wave two” — approximately 750,000 Californian students will not be able to find a place in higher education in future years, according to Athena Perrakis, a professor of leadership studies at the University of San Diego and a participant in the tour’s brainstorming sessions.

    “The older Californians who benefited [from the Master Plan for Education] feel responsible to the younger generation,” Bongiovanni said. “They want them to have the same opportunities that they had.”

    However, the public as a whole seemed generally uninformed about the barriers to college access prior to the tour, according to San Diego Community College District Chancellor Constance M. Carroll.

    “I was surprised that the general public seemed unaware of the issue of capacity,” Carroll stated in an e-mail. “When they understood how few universities there were in California compared to 1960 when the Master Plan was adopted, they grasped the problem quickly.”

    The report also profiled current students from 68 colleges.

    Elyde Arroyo, an interviewee from the tour, commutes to San Diego Mesa College, San Diego Community College and Miramar College in order to get all the classes she needs. CCO asked her about the struggles of community college and financial challenges.

    “All the classes I need are not offered at just one college,” Arroyo said. “The science and math classes are hard to get, especially at Miramar, and the waitlist is forever.”

    According to Arroyo, due to the budget, community colleges have laid off professors, depleting the number of classes offered to students. Additionally, students complain of long waitlists for general education and transfer classes at the colleges.

    Providing new research for the report, the California Postsecondary Education Committee projected that, by 2013, college enrollment will increase by 672,489 in California’s community colleges, 119,044 students in the California State University system and 45,560 additional students for the University of California. San Diego, in particular, will experience significant growth, CCO reported.

    “In the next 10 years we will see a dramatic growth in the college population,” CPEC acting Executive Director Murray Haberman said. “We are trying our best to accommodate all students and provide operational resources to future students.”

    Haberman said the importance of higher education for future generations made long-term planning an urgent priority.

    “Higher education plays a critical role in our futures,” Haberman said. “Beyond educational, [it involves] economical development.”

    Carroll said she agreed, explaining that higher education was linked to the health of California’s future economy.

    “California’s economy is directly dependent upon its educational system,” Carroll said. “The UC is the research engine, the CSU is the institution of practical application and the California community colleges provide the access students need to move through higher education. Since over 80 percent of new jobs require at least a year of college study, California will not continue to be competitive if it provides insufficient access to higher education. Lack of capacity, underfunding and budget cuts are not the best way to address the largest increase in student demand for higher education in the history of the state.”

    Recommendations to lawmakers made by CCO include developing a 10-year higher education plan, making funding for education a top priority by developing a long-term financing plan, and encouraging higher education leaders to share resources and to set a predictable fee policy. In addition, the plan calls for more financial aid and improving the education of parents and students about college opportunities, beginning in middle school.

    “We want to communicate to parents and students as young as middle school that college isn’t as expensive as it’s perceived,” Soltani said. “We want them to understand that financial aid is available.”

    In response to the report, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget spokesman, H.D. Palmer, said that higher education is a top priority in the governor’s state funding plans.

    “As long as he is governor, there will be ongoing growth and commitment to higher education,” Palmer said. “For the future, we intend to put a ceiling on how much student fees can increase, and we want to improve the time to graduate so they can do it in four years.”

    UC Office of the President spokeswoman Ravi Poorsina said the university agreed with the suggestions found in the report.

    “We think being accessible to all students is important and we want to satisfy the demands out there,” Poorsina said. “[The CCO’s] mission is a good one, and as a state, it’s something we need to think about.”

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