Eric Sung is currently starting his third year at Foothill Community College in Los Altos, California. Last May, he had a shot at becoming a UC Irvine Business Administration major. Unfortunately, the many unconfirmed rumors circulating around the campus regarding the California budget crisis and its potential effects on public education funding at the time had him worried over whether his single-parent family could afford sending him to a four-year institution. In the end, he did not take the risk and chose to remain in community college until the crisis settles. In the interview, he recounts the events leading up to his final decision, as well as his feelings afterwards.
Q: When and where did you first hear about the UC budget cuts?
A: I heard it from my friends [at school]. It was around the time we started to get our [admission] reply letters back [near the end of] March.
Q: What was the general atmosphere like back then?
A: Everybody was nervous...we were all waiting to see which schools accepted us and which ones didn't. That's when people started [rumors] about how UCs and CSUs won't have enough money to take in as many students as they did last year [because of the budget crisis], since everyone kind of predicted that education will be on the Governator's [budget cut] list...which made things even worse, because everybody panicked. Rumors were spreading like crazy...so I went to confirm with the counselors.
Q: What did the counselors say?
A: I went to see Debra Lew, one of the transfer counselors, after I got my acceptance letter to UCI in mid-April...She told me there are definitely going to be huge cuts to all the [K-12, CC, UC and CSU] systems, but it shouldn't affect admission rates...She knew about my financial situation and told me that the Governor was planning to cut Cal Grant, the primary source of financial aid, which really got me worried because I was depending on it to support my two years at UC.
Q: Can you describe your financial situation?
A: My dad is a chef at a small Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. I have two half-brothers, but I don't see or hear from them much. So it's basically just [my dad and I]. He doesn't make a lot of money, that's why we took the cheaper “community college-transfer” route. He still has payments left on our house, so I was depending on financial aid money after I transfer.
Q: What about your mother?
A: We still keep in touch, but she's not...rich.
Q: What other rumors were circulating around campus?
A: Someway along the way, someone mentioned that UCs will only take freshmen applicants starting next year while CSUs will only take transfers...Private schools are raising the bar for admissions because they are expecting more people to apply or appeal [after] they got rejected by the public colleges...UCs and CSUs won't offer Winter or Spring admissions anymore.
Q: What dilemmas did you face when you were trying to decide whether you should move on to UCI?
A: Affordability was on the top of my list, for sure. Then [the rumor] about how the UCs were planning to just accept freshmen and [CSUs] would only take transfers. It's like, on one hand, I don't want to go to a school I can't afford and end up quitting halfway because I ran out of money. On the other, I don't want to be stuck in a State [University]. I mean, that's why I chose community college in the first place, [so I can transfer to a UC].
Q: What made you choose an extra year of community college instead of UCI?
A: Well, I didn't think I could afford it at the time, so I decided to stay another year to see how things will settle. I also thought about working part-time and saving up some money [before I transfer], because I heard taking student loans is kind of risky. And also because I didn't believe in that [BS] about UC only taking freshmen. It's too farfetched.
Q: Why do you think student loans are risky?
A: I've had a couple of friends who took up student loans who are struggling now, because it's really hard to get a job in the current economy. So they are stuck in debt right out of college with no way of paying it back. I don't want to be like them, building up a huge debt with interests so soon.
At this point, I informed him that student loans were meant to help students get through college, has very low interest rates compared to bank loans and offers many flexible payment plans. But he was convinced that because his dad has a job and owns a piece of property, the amount of financial aid he qualifies for won't be sufficient, meaning he will need to take out a huge loan. Then, I caught him up on the Cal Grant situation: from President Yudof's promise to temporarily cover the costs of the grant, to the sparing of the grant from the July budget deal.
Q: Now that you know Cal Grant is back, do you regret not transferring to UCI?
A: Only a little bit. It turns out Foothill [College] also made some minor cutbacks. We can't take more than 23 units anymore. And [they don't provide] handouts from class, we got to go buy them from the Smart Shop (a student printer store in Foothill) ourselves. But now that I think about it, this extra year really gave me time to rethink my goals, what I want achieved in college and where I would like to achieve those goals. Since I now have an extra year, I have the time to fulfill the major requirements for UCSD's International Studies- Economics major. No offense, I just think UCSD is a better school than Irvine.
Q: How did you feel when you realize you couldn't come to Irvine, before your change-of-hearts for UCSD?
A: I felt awful and discouraged. But I wasn't going to give up. I tried to see this as an opportunity to have more time to figure out what it is I want. I felt like it just wasn't my time yet.
Q: Why did they limit the maximum number of units? Shouldn't the college be trying to take in more students to supplement funding?
A: I guess they still want quality? I don't really know...In reality...we don't have a lot of seats. This year, there are a lot more people coming to Foothill. Lot 3 is always jam-packed now. It used to always have empty spots.
Q: How big are your classes this quarter?
A: Pretty much the same as before, about 20 to 30 people.
Q: Why do you think more people are attending Foothill College, a community college?
A: I'm guessing it's one of two possibilities. More people were denied admissions to four-year institutions this year, or they wanted to take advantage of the lower tuition here.
Q: You aren't the only student who has decided to stay an extra year due to the budget crisis. Do you think they stayed for reasons other than financial problems?
A: I know at least three other people who stayed behind, but they are more worried about not being able to get into their first-choice [institution], since they believe there would be less available seats, than money. They are international students, so they have to pay the non-resident fees anyways, so tuition hikes and decreased financial aid don't really matter to them.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
A: Sometimes, taking a step back doesn't necessarily mean defeat. I'm glad I decided to stay behind for an extra year, because now I have a shot at UCSD!
Many of Sung's decisions were made based on what he heard from unknown sources. However, since no one, not even the counselors, could confidently dispel the rumors, he believed his future is not something he should gamble on.