By Susan Kemp
I get that we’re on the opposite side of the country and everything, but can we take a moment to reflect on the absolute disaster that is the California education system?
Let’s just say things have gone from bad to worse ever since west coasters parted ways with the Governator.
Just in the past year, UC Berkeley, UC Davis and Santa Monica College protests attracted national attention when police broke up crowds with pepper spray; and this past week California State students announced a hunger strike as a reaction to tuition spikes, among other things.
I know it’s easy to disregard the complaints of a bunch of 20-somethings as “much ado about nothing,” but as a California-to-Savannah transplant, I really think the rest of the world just might not fully grasp the hit that California colleges have suffered in the last decade.
I can understand the disconnect. It’s like when I first heard about the lotteries to get into Pre-K programs in New York. I couldn’t believe it. I mean the anxiety these parents go through before their kids are even five years old is dumbfounding. But speaking of nonsensical headaches, let’s talk about what’s going on over there on the west coast.
So let’s say you’re a recent high school graduate in California opting to be financially scrupulous and spending your first two years at a community college.
For most Americans, this isn’t an issue. But for the 300,000 Californians turned away last year due to budget cuts, access to higher education has gotten a little more complicated. There is literally not enough funding. Can we let that sink in? People can’t get into their local community colleges.
Then say, you do get in. High-demand general education classes like algebra and composition fill up so fast that thousands of students can’t get the classes they need in order to transfer into the California State or University of California systems (which by the way, also suffer from budget concerns and only accept junior-level transfers with prerequisite course work completed).
A good friend of mine attended Santa Monica College in 2010 and was actually considering paying out-of-state tuition to take calculus online at another school so she could still transfer to a four-year university on schedule. It’s outrageous. But it’s also increasingly common.
It’s in response to this problem that Santa Monica College proposed earlier this year a two-tier tuition system that would let students take these high-demand courses during the summer for a higher cost per unit. But oddly, SMC students didn’t want to pay four times as much for the same class. When a group of students entered a board meeting to protest this in April, police pepper-sprayed them. Others were arrested.
Oh, but we’re not done yet.
In spring 2013, the California State system plans to freeze enrollment – as in no new students will be admitted that semester. At all. For fall 2013 and onward, all strong applicants will be wait-listed and let in as funding allows. Can we pause again? Am I the only one whose mind is completely blown by this? And you have to realize we’re not just talking about one school. The California State system consists of 23 universities.
We’re not even talking about affordable higher education anymore; for some students, we’re talking about access to an education at all. Is it not fair to say that maybe – just maybe – the cuts have gone a little too far?
I can’t help but make parallels between California and the national debates on cutting funding for the Pell Grant and raising interest rates on federal Stafford Loans. We can’t both increase tuition, while at the same time decreasing federal relief intended to fill in the gaps.
While making decisions in the upcoming weeks on doubling Stafford Loan rates, Washington should glance over at California and take a second to reflect. How well did cutting $970 million in state funding over five years work out? How great is the quality of life for the adjunct staff (now the majority) getting paid half as much as tenured professors? How did we get to a point where a whole school system is freezing enrollment?
As I’m sure Californians will agree, ignoring the problem doesn’t seem to work out so well after all.
Double Take is a weekly column re-evaluating issues that affect college-aged students.Contact Susan Kemp.