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Squeezed Out: California State University Cuts 10,000

Vida en el Valle, News Report, Staff Posted: Nov 29, 2008

When California State University officials announced the steps it would take to deal with a bleak economic forecast, it didn't take into account the impact those measures will have on students like Tiffany Vsquez of Fresno, Horacio Viveros of Sacramento, or Lourdes Montes de Oca of Davis.

The CSU -- facing midyear cut of $66.3 million in addition to a $31.3 million cut that trustees approved last month -- has decided to cut enrollment by 10,000 students next year by:

Cutting off admission for the fall 2009 semester on Sunday (Nov. 30). Those who apply between Dec. 1 and Feb. 1 will go on a waiting list.

Giving higher priority to students who live in the university's geographic region. This means that graduating high school students in Sacramento may see their chances diminish greatly if they apply to attend San Diego State.

Not ruling out tuition hikes in the future if the state demands more cuts.

The UC system has ruled out tuition hikes for the time being, but is looking at a $65.5 million budget cut request from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. UC regents said last week they would cap enrollment if their current budget is not increased.

Vsquez, a senior at Sunnyside High School (Fresno) who hopes to attend Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and major in kinesiology, is having a difficult time explaining the situation to her mother.

"My mom drives me to school at 5 a.m. for leadership classes, and she doesn't understand why I won't be able to go if I have done everything they've asked of me," said Vsquez. "She asks, 'Why did you work so hard all these years?'"

Viveros, an ethnic studies major at California State University, Sacramento, wonders what has happened to the message of the importance of education.

"We have constantly heard that education is everything, that it is the most important thing for a person, and is also good for the state's welfare," he said. "That is why I don't understand the governor's measures to cut funds to what is the future and economy of the state."

Montes de Oca, who studying medicine at UC Davis, said fee increases would be devastating to her.

"Up to now, my parents have helped me pay my university fees, but they don't have much economic resources," said Montes de Oca. "Every time I have to pay my fees, they find themselves in serious problems because they also have to raise my three other siblings."

Educators believe the CSU and UC measures will do more harm to Latino students because they tend to procrastinate on filing their applications, have less of a college-going environment which makes the process much harder for them, and often come from low-income backgrounds that makes college more difficult.

Jessie Ryan works for the Campaign for College Opportunity out of the group's Modesto office. She believes the CSU and UC efforts "represent a broken promise by the state of California."

"We tell students that we want them for college. That if they take the responsibility to go to college, the state will have a spot for them," said Ryan. "Now we're telling them: 'You're out of luck. This is a tough economic year.'"

The impact, said Ryan, will be felt greater in the San Joaqun Valley which has a large Latino population that has traditionally shied away from college.

"We have been working so hard in the Valley to turn around this perception that we lack a college-going culture, a fast-growing population of Latinos who are not accessing higher education at a level to maintain California's competitive economy," said Ryan. "This is not only hurting students, but hurting the state as a whole."

She points to studies that show that for every dollar the state invests in higher education, the economy gets $3 in return.

"If we fail, we lose $3 based on incarceration rates, local and state sales taxes lost, and pressure for social services," said Ryan.

Asked during a telephone press conference last Wednesday about what he would tell students who would not be able to go to the college of their choice, Fresno State President John Welty said: "They will have a more difficult time. The best advice I can give them is to apply to other institutions."

Fresno State will reduce enrollment by 500 students, primarily by not accepting lower division transfer students, those who want to get a second degree and graduate students without a major.

"As a system we regret having to take this action, but it is clear the Legislature will not fund enrollment growth this year or next year," said Welty.

Fears of higher fees

The CSU and UC moves will not have a huge impact on current students, unless their fees are increased.

That has not lessened the worries for students like Viveros and Luis Cabrera at Sacramento State.

Viveros remembers paying $1,200 when he first enrolled in college five years ago. Today, he is paying $2,000.

"I would not be able to afford another increase in our college fees," said Viveros. "I would rather drop out and find a full-time job instead. The sad thing is that all my classmates find themselves in the same situation I'm in."

Cabrera, a business administration major, would be forced to find a job to pay any fee hikes.

"With much effort, my parents have been able to pay for my college costs up to this point," said Cabrera. "But if the fees are increased, I know they would not be able to afford it. I don't know how the government can make cuts in something as important as college, which should be the No. 1 priority for them."

Last fall, Sacramento State had to refuse admission to 10,000 students because the university had no funds.

"The worst thing is that among those students there were many who had excellent qualifications," said Jason Conwell, a university professor.

At UC Davis, Montes de Oca is proud of her grades. Having to take a job to pay for tuition increases would put them at risk, she said.

"My parents are proud of my grades, and they have told me that whatever happens they will support me," said Montes de Oca. "However, I don't want to take advantage of them because I know there are times when they don't have the money for the most basic things."

Fellow UC Davis student Alejandro Ibarra, a 20-year-old law student, has had his parents' financial support.

However, they have told him that if tuition gets higher, they won't be able to help.

"Unfortunately, I didn't qualify for a scholarship and my parents didn't qualify for me to get financial assistance," said Ibarra. "The books and class materials are very expensive. That is what the government should take into account before they increase tuition. Doing so will force many of us to leave school."

Getting to college

Just getting to their college of choice is a concern these days for Andrade and fellow students at Sunnyside High School. Fellow students Jules, Lylian Banderas, Robert Johnson, Tiffany Vsquez, Victoria Criado and Jasmeet Grewal all have dreams of attending a university other than Fresno State.

They have been active in extracurricular activities, taken college prep courses, and, some of them are enrolled in the Doctor's Academy. The students have nothing against Fresno State, but they want to challenge themselves by becoming independent from family.

"I've tried so hard," said Vsquez, who hopes to study criminal justice at San Diego State or UC San Diego or San Jos State. "I have really good grades, but not-so-good test scores."

Getting into college, she said, is important for another reason.

"I come from a family that does not attend college," said Vsquez. "Do you know how much this would mean for my family? I would be a role model for my cousins. Why is it that we are getting limited with our chances?"

That is the same question that Banderas, who hopes to attend Dominican University and major in business.

"We won't get our chance to shine," said Banderas. "It's not your fault. How do you explain that to your parents?"

Johnson, who hopes to major in psychology at San Jos State or CSU Monterey Bay, said, "I want to expand. I want to reach out. I don't want to go to Fresno State. I want to dream bigger."

Grewal, who reads and speaks Spanish because of her efforts to improve her rsum for college, wants to study computer engineering at UC Irvine or Cal Poly Pomona. She also took three years of summer school to improve her chances of getting into her college of choice.

"How are we going to make a difference?" she asks. "Something needs to change."

Diana Rodrquez, a Sunnyside counselor, helped organize massive college admission forums in recent weeks to make sure students met the Nov. 30 deadline.

"This is devastating," said Rodrquez. "They have taken the rug out from under their feet. I think it is very unfair."

Educators have concerns

Students are not the only ones concerned about the impacts, especially when it comes to the Latino community. The early deadline is a problem, they said.

"We do know that our Latino students tend to wait a little bit because sometimes they're not sure how they're going to pay for it, they're waiting for their financial aid packet," said Lisa Bernardo, admissions dean at California State University, Stanislaus. "For a lot of our students this is a completely new process it's very overwhelming, and without knowing how you're going to pay for it, it's not something you would like to jump into. I don't see it as procrastination. They just have to take it all in."

Carolina Alfaro, admissions counselor at the same university, said Latino students normally confer much more with their parents over college.

"Families are a big portion of this. Latino families tend to be a bit more worrisome about their financial situation; how they're going to pay for things," said Alfaro.

In the past, universities like Stanislaus have accepted applications through June for the fall semester. Last year, the deadline was moved to Feb. 1.

Private universities like the University of the Pacific in Stockton sometimes benefit.

As state colleges are forced to accept less students while they suffer reductions due to state budget cuts, UOP has actually seen a record enrollment of freshmen this fall. Compared to last year, they had 882 new freshmen this fall.

"When public schools have to their decrease budget that means they'll admit fewer student. It will drive those students to explore other options," said Robert Alexander, Pacific associate provost for enrollment.

Related Articles:

Afford a UC College Education? Yes, You Can!

School Matters: Putting 'College' into All Students' Vocabulary

Bracing for Budget Crunch, UC Prez Worries and Plans

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