Funding for O.A.S.I.S. Could Soon Dry Up

    A large budget downsizing ordered by Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson to the Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services’ freshmen outreach program has been implemented one year early due to public scrutiny of the complex formula used to place students into the program. The total budget reduction for O.A.S.I.S. next year will be $150,000, according to the program’s Director Patrick Velasquez.

    Greg Dale/Guardian
    Revelle College freshman Jay Milo, an intern at O.A.S.I.S., leads a tutoring session.

     O.A.S.I.S., a free universitywide resource designed to provide assistance to students struggling with coursework, offers many programs that help students improve their academic performance. In addition to providing study management programs and support for students learning English, O.A.S.I.S. offers weekly tutoring sessions for those having a hard time with math, science, economics or foreign language classes.

     The bulk of the recent budget cuts — about $100,000 — stem from the O.A.S.I.S. temporary budget, which has undergone increased public criticism over a formula applied to the office’s Community for Learning and Academic Success program, designed to provide counseling, networking and tutoring workshops for freshmen, Velasquez said.

     The formula used to determine CLAS eligibility, developed by Watson’s office, uses an incoming freshman’s SAT scores and GPA to predict his or her freshman GPA. Using the calculation, the Student Affairs Office links all students with a predicted GPA of 2.8 or lower to the CLAS program. If a CLAS student has a GPA of 2.0 or lower by the end of his or her first year, or if the student completes fewer than 36 units, O.A.S.I.S. loses roughly $1,800 per student, even if they never use the tutoring service. Conversely, if the student maintains a GPA above 3.0 and accumulates 36 units, O.A.S.I.S. receives an estimated additional $600.

     What makes the formula err, however, is that it is applied to all freshmen with predicted GPAs of 2.8 or lower, regardless of whether they have used O.A.S.I.S. services or not, Velasquez said. Not only was the technique skewed to make the program budget less predictable, but it was difficult to reach out to that number of underachieving students, he said.

     Other UCSD entities, including the Academic Senate and the Guardian’s editorial board, lambasted the formula, forcing Watson to begin reducing the program’s temporary funds, according to Velasquez.

    “[Watson] didn’t like the criticism of the funding formula,” he said. “I think that it had some problems, but I think that the principle was sound. [Watson’s] perception is that freshmen need help in transition, but we need money to help a wide spectrum of students.”

     In June 2005, Watson sent Velasquez a memo, which has been obtained by the Guardian, unexpectedly cutting off the three-year temporary funding for the CLAS program one year earlier than originally promised. Watson indicated that the reason for the cut was increased outside scrutiny of the CLAS formula, according to the memo.

     “The continuing public complaints that the trial budget allocation formula is inappropriate and unfair to O.A.S.I.S. has proven to be distracting and counterproductive,” Watson stated in the memo. “I am therefore concluding the trial with this academic year.”

     Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Edward Spriggs, however, flatly denied that Watson was “cutting off funding” for O.A.S.I.S. He said that the office staff knew that the cuts were coming because the original agreement between O.A.S.I.S. and Watson established a temporary funding program for CLAS that would be gradually reduced over a three-year time span. After three years, according to Spriggs, O.A.S.I.S. would need to find a way to maintain the program without an extension of its original temporary budget.

     “After three years, temporary funding was to be ended and office budget matters were to be handled internally,” Spriggs said.

     Spriggs also said that the budget reductions did not come as a result of criticism of the CLAS formula, which is a separate issue.

     “The reductions are absolutely not related to the formula,” he said.

     Spriggs also indicated that Velasquez’s interpretations of the budget reductions were mistaken.

     “Yeah,” Spriggs said when asked if he thought Velasquez was wrong.

     He added in an e-mail that, although the office’s resource program seems to be working, it needs to demonstrate “concrete results” of its success in order to keep its budget from being reduced.

     “It is easier to gauge programmatic outcomes in some areas than in others, and it is particularly challenging in academic support programs like O.A.S.I.S., where so many factors can influence expected outcomes,” Spriggs stated in an e-mail. “As to the impact of these efforts on academic performance, definitive results continue to be needed.”

     This year, an additional $46,000 will be cut from the program’s annual general fund, which is currently set at nearly $1.264 million including salaries and benefits for office staff. Watson has also promised a similar cut in the upcoming fiscal year, according to Velasquez.

    Velasquez said that the university had no reason to cut the money and that it can find evidence of student success as a result of O.A.S.I.S. by spending more time on internal and external evaluations of the office.

     “It’s kind of disturbing and frustrating,” he said. “There was no real need to cut this money. I have to interpret it as a lack of priority.”

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