A Cut Below - Higher Education

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A Cut Below

by LYDIA LUM

California students and faculty grapple with the effects of a state budget crisis in postsecondary education.

Born and raised in San Jose, Calif., Betty Duong began translating for her immigrant parents from the time she could speak in complete sentences.

Doing so helped her family navigate daily necessities like reading and paying utility bills. Through her, they also dealt with English-speaking bureaucrats at hospitals, social service agencies and courts. Family friends and neighbors often tapped Duong’s bilingual skills too.

But the duties made Duong burn out, rather than engage, in school throughout her K-12 years. It was not until a community college class unexpectedly engrossed her that she realized the benefi ts education could usher into the life of herself and others.

As long as it remains accessible and affordable, that is.

Today, Duong is among thousands of California students worried about vanishing college affordability and access, especially for historically under-represented and marginalized populations.

Students and faculty throughout California are grappling with the effects of draconian state cuts to postsecondary education that have topped more than $1 billion in the last year.

As the state’s fiscal crisis has deepened, its three major higher education institutions — the University of California, The CaliforNia State University and California Community Colleges — have cut faculty pay, laid off staff and reduced the number of course offerings.

The unavailability of courses is forcing some students to take longer than expected to graduate.

Coinciding with the belt-tightening, offi cials have raised mandatory student fees again, causing students to mount protests and occupy campus buildings.

Ever-soaring costs alongside ever-shrinking classes and services lead observers to fear that uncertainties may become norms, permanently denigrating higher education in the nation’s most populous state.

Says Dr. Sandra Graham, a University of California, Los Angeles professor of psychological studies in education: “It has become a sham.”

Misleading by Example

Dr. Ming-Tung “Mike” Lee, vice provost of California State University, Sacramento, believes the outcome of state-budget battles can infl uence what happens elsewhere. “Whatever we develop, other states will try convincing their legislatures to do the same. It’s unfortunately sending the message that by continuing to cut at the state level, then we will continue to cut at the campus level and just deal with it.” The leaders of the three-tiered education system have urged legislators to restore public appropriations to their schools in the next budget cycle, and they appear to have Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as an ally for increased funding.

“It takes decades to create great universities,” UC President Mark Yudof said at a legislative hearing last month. “But they can be destroyed in a relatively short amount of time.” Faculty jobs have also fallen to the budget ax.

Last fall, the Cal State system employed 2,133 fewer lecturers — or 16 percent less — than it did in fall 2008, according to the California Faculty Association.

Seven of Cal State’s 23 campuses lost 20 percent or more of their lecturers.

Although typically not on the tenure track, lecturers comprised about 55 percent of all Cal State faculty as recently as 2008. Some are Ph.D.s; others are not. Hired for their expertise in a particular fi eld, lecturers teach but usually aren’t obligated to research or publish.

For the remaining Cal State faculty, mandatory furloughs have accompanied pay cuts. Dr. Robert McNamara and his colleagues are required to specify days and times in which they won’t hold class — even if class is regularly scheduled that day — or offi ce hours or attend department meetings or campus events.

A Sonoma State University political science professor, McNamara notices “my students aren’t doing as well and their research isn’t very deep because we have less contact with each other.” He periodically tells students to cross out topics on the course syllabus that he covered in years past but no longer does, because of reduced class time. “I want them to see what they’re missing.” McNamara and others agree the harried climate has cornered them into using multiple-choice exams more often.

Meanwhile, administrators at all campuses have cancelled countless courses before the start of a term, only to reinstate some of the courses last-minute, sending instructors and students scrambling.

Such frustration and low morale pushes many faculty to scout out-of-state jobs or consider pitches from peer institutions eager to pluck “superstar” professors, especially if they are Black or Latino because of the scarcity of them at top-tier research universities.

UC offi cials, for instance, say a “brain drain” has not yet occurred, although they are aware of ongoing courtships.

Unlike Cal State, most UC faculty haven’t trimmed instruction time, but Graham observes, “If anything, I’m working harder, hustling.” She has crafted a multiyear grant proposal for nonuniversity funds to support her graduate students. She worries that continued UCLA cuts will strand students crucial in conducting her research, which examines peer relations and racial tolerance among youth.

The Minority Report

Educators are already seeing the state’s budget problems squeezing a disproportionate share of students of color. As an example, the University of California, Santa Cruz designates one complex of dorms and apartments for ethnic-theme housing. Minorities regularly fi ll about 45 percent of those 600 beds as they do university Enrollment.

Because of contract cancellations, the complex had 73 vacancies between the fall and winter quarters — fi ve times the usual rate.

Offi cials say nearly all those cancellations came from minorities who, because of job layoffs in their families or other fi nancial strain, sought cheaper housing or dropped out of school.

University of California, Davis student Damonde Hatfi eld, however, wants to move on campus. He has applied for a resident adviser job in a dorm because it would entitle him to free room and board.

A junior majoring in sociology and African-American studies, Hatfi eld struggles to stay afl oat fi nancially despite sharing an apartment with three roommates. He works at the campus activities and recreation center to supplement his loans and grants.

His grandmother is paying his midyear fee hike of $585 because it’s beyond the means of his mother, who does offi ce work, and his father, a construction laborer. The undergraduate fee increase, the eighth since 2002, is part of a 32 percent spike being phased in at UC.

By fall, mandatory systemwide UC fees for in-state undergraduates will run $10,302, excluding housing or books. The price is less than the retail cost of many academically selective public universities nationally. However, Californians are upset because the California Master Plan for Higher Education, which in 1960 articulated the missions of higher education institutions, calls for a tuition-free system charging only nominal fees for sports and other non-instructional offerings.

Meanwhile, California State University, Stanislaus student Brittany Graham’s fees have skyrocketed 53 percent from her freshman year to $4,840.

Brittany studies nursing. The national dearth of nurses convinced the fi fth-year senior to stay the course. “At least I’ll have a job at the end.” Dr. Lorelle Espinosa, director of policy and strategic initiatives at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Higher Education Policy, says because the California Master Plan became a model for so many other states in shaping school systems, close attention is being paid nationally to what occurs in California in the coming months. “The rising costs are telling students and families on society’s margins that they don’t have a place in California higher education. That is the message being sent to the general public all over the country.” Costs aside, Californians face additional diffi culties gaining entrance into UC and Cal State in the near future and perhaps beyond.

UC offi cials plan to turn over 2,200 student slots for this fall to out-of-state and international students, who pay much higher fees than in-state residents, unless state allocations dramatically Improve soon. UC enrolls 14,000 in-state students for whom it receives no state support. Meanwhile, Cal State offi cials plan to enroll 40,000 fewer students over the next two years.

For his part, Schwarzenegger says he wants to reverse the damage being wrought by budget cuts on California’s higher education system.

“We can no longer afford to cut higher education,” Schwarzenegger said earlier this month during his State of the State address.

“The priorities have become out of whack over the years.” “Thirty years ago 10 percent of the general fund went to higher education and 3 percent went to prisons. Today almost 11 percent goes to prisons and only 7.5 percent goes to higher education.

Spending 45 percent more on prisons than universities is no way to proceed into the future,” he said, adding that he wants to lower prison spending through privatization.

Schwarzenegger proposed limiting prison spending to 7 percent of the state’s general fund while spending no less than 10 percent on higher education.

“Choosing universities over prisons,” Schwarzenegger said, “this is a historic and transforming realignment of California’s priorities.” Still, there’s no guarantee Schwarzenegger, a lame-duck governor, will succeed in winning over lawmakers. If he doesn’t, he proposed that the matter be put to voters.

That means immediate relief for higher education is nowhere in sight. The cost-cutting measures and their impact on minority students trouble Duong, now a third-year UC Davis law student.

To afford college, she has worked as a make-up artist and trimmed expenses by living with family friends during some semesters.

She supplements her law school loans with jobs as a UC Davis research assistant and teaching assistant in Asian-American studies.

She credits higher education with giving her career prospects and a sense of self-assurance and belonging that eluded her in childhood.

Duong earned a bachelor’s in Asian-American studies from the University of California, Berkeley. “Getting my education has empowered me, made me feel privileged.” But she cannot ignore the fact that hardly any of her low- and moderate-income peers in San Jose hold a degree from any of the 10 UC campuses. It doesn’t take her long, either, to count the few who attended, much less graduated from Cal State.

And considering the opposite directions that costs and accessibility appear to be heading, Duong surmises that even fewer young people of future generations may have those opportunities.

“I really don’t know how new students are going to be able to manage this burden.”

Students Lament Costs, Contemplate Future

John Tan sometimes second-guesses his turning down a full-tuition Seton Hall University law scholarship, despite his satisfying experience at UC Davis, where he plans to fi nish his law degree this spring.

“I would’ve picked up the same tools at Seton Hall but with much less debt,” he says, referring to $75,000 in loans. He has also earned income as a teaching assistant in political science and Asian-American studies at the main UC Davis campus.

Annoyed by annual fees that have jumped 40 percent within three years of law school, Tan is considering skipping the State Bar exam this summer. He says he can’t justify another loan for exam and preparatory course costs, which would run several thousand dollars.

A Change Of Plans

Paris Granger’s mother always dreamed of a University of California education for all her children. A junior majoring in history and criminology, Granger still recalls her mother’s elation when she received the UC Irvine letter of admission.

But escalating UC fees mean that Granger’s younger sister, a high school senior, will likely attend community college in the fall with hopes of transferring to UC as an upperclassman. Granger’s oldest sister is a senior at UCLA. Their mother, who’s single, works for a company providing transportation to the elderly.

“My mom’s biggest fear is that my sister might not be able to transfer by that time,” Granger says. “Things would be a lot easier if she was able to afford UC the whole way.”

No Time To Help

Emilio Camacho never envisioned himself at the state’s most Prestigious postsecondary system until a community college teacher and mentor convinced him it would help him overcome being stereotyped by others.

At age 16, the Mexican-born Camacho accompanied his mother, who is a housekeeper, and younger sister to the U.S., where he struggled to learn English and fi nish high school.

At the urging of his mentor, he transferred to UC Davis and earned a bachelor’s in philosophy before entering its law school.

A second-year student and father of three, Camacho has encouraged disadvantaged and marginalized youth to consider top-fl ight colleges as well. Whenever possible, he would speak to high school student groups or participate in career days.

But his outreach has tapered off in recent months. To keep up with ever-rising school fees, Camacho took a teaching assistant job in Chicano Studies for UC Davis’ main campus. “It’s like adding an entire class to my schedule, with 100 students’ papers to grade.” “But I have to work. I have to take care of myself fi rst,” he says.

Climbing Fees Devour Scholarships

Philip Person chose UC Davis law school in part to remain close to his family in California. A second-year student, he tries avoiding additional loans by applying for scholarships every time he learns of opportunities.

Climbing fees devour the scholarships as fast as he secures them. His third-year fee of $42,322 will be 48 percent more than that of his fi rst year. That’s startling, considering annual law school tuition and fees at Stanford University, which is private, currently run $42,420. His younger brother, Andrew, a senior at UC Berkeley, takes note as he shops law schools and scholarship offers around the country.

“He’s looking for the best bang for his buck,” Philip Person says of his brother. He adds, “I thought education was a way for people to gain fi nancial stability. But now, a student has to be fi nancially stable to get an education.” — By Lydia Lum

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