Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Finding An Open Road to Higher Education

By Odalis Suarez

It was lunchtime. I parked my car like I always did and walked towards the entrance of the school with my notebook. Students looked at me with uncertainty. Was she a student? I walked into the building, casually greeted everyone I knew and proceeded to walk to the counseling office. I had an appointment, but it wasn’t for academic assistance because unlike the students I passed by that day, I had already found my path to higher education while they were still searching for theirs. That day I entered as an alumni of Crescenta Valley High School and as a reporter attempting to discover the obstacles high school seniors are facing as they apply to UC schools that are dealing with the budget cuts and fee increases.

With the recent budget cuts and the 32% student tuition increases (effective winter quarter of 2010), both students and faculty in high schools all over California are working harder than ever with one goal in mind: getting admission into college.

“Each counselor got 200 or more extra students so that’s a 50% increase” explained a Crescenta Valley High School counselor, “so that in itself is a lot of additional work just in terms of that many more students needing help and coming in and having questions and many more parents e-mailing and calling.”

CV is one of the many high schools in California that have been impacted by the budget cuts. The La Crescenta based high school is coping with their counselor shortages and managing a great deal of seniors needing college assistance. “I have 160 seniors this year as opposed to 100 seniors last year,” added the counselor.

Prospective students applying to schools such as UC Irvine are faced with a financial challenge. According to a letter written by UC President Mark Yudof, it states that “For the 2010-2011 academic year, additional fee increases” will occur as it will cost “$1,344 per year for resident undergraduates” and “$1,458 for nonresident undergraduates”.

Students are already struggling financially in high school as they are faced with payments that are necessary to apply to college. "[There are] a lot more students coming in for fee waivers for SAT’s, ACT’s, and college applications [this year],” stated the counselor.

In addition to the financial struggle that lies ahead for high school seniors, UC Irvine has raised the bar in student academics. According to the Office of Institutional Research Planning and Budget http://www.oir.uci.edu/ who has worked extensively on statistical research in regards to UC Irvine admissions, in 2006 the mean high school GPA of admitted high school seniors was 3.70. Two years later in 2008 the mean GPA has increased to 3.82, and now recent reports have been made that for 2009, the mean GPA of high school students admitted has further increased to a solid 4.0.

When this statistical fact was mentioned to the CV counselor, she emphasized concern for the students and their academic decisions:

"Students are getting more worried about [GPA]. It’s creating an atmosphere where students are making decisions based on GPA rather than what’s best for them or what their interests are or what they want to do in their future. So I think its making people focus on the wrong thing because they are very stressed about the eligibility. They are trying to do maybe more than they are comfortable with."

Questions were sent to the UCI admissions department in regards to these findings and any concerns made by students. However, after numerous attempts the department failed to respond to the written questions.

UC Irvine’s selectivity is further emphasized in another data set showing the number of high school students admitted and the percentage of selectivity. From 2006 to 2008 the number of high school seniors that applied to UC Irvine has consistently increased from 38,435 to 42,414 and yet the rate of high school students admitted has decreased from 23,167 to 20,670. This means that the percentage of selectivity in UC Irvine has decreased as well with 2008 being the all time lowest with a percentage of 48.7%. The lower the percentage of selectivity is, the more selective UC Irvine is becoming. This trend is still ongoing as students who applied for fall 2009 further increased with a total of 44,116 students. Only 18,676 students were offered admission, which provided a percentage of 42.3% selectivity. In my previous interview with Brent Yunek, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Services and acting Director of Admissions and Relations with Schools, he acknowledged that:

“If the trends continue the way they have I would expect a smaller percentage of the applicant pool admitted, but we still have many factors yet to be realized to know for sure. For instance, our enrollment target has not firmly been set for next year if something changes in that target that it would by any slip chance be allowed to grow, that could possibly change things in a different direction, so it’s a little early."

What are the expectations for students wanting to apply for fall quarter of 2010? According to Glendale Unified School District board member Greg Krikorian, students seem to be more eager this year to attain a higher education. “More students in general are striving to get a higher education, we are seeing more students going to the private, public, community colleges,” stated Krikorian. “I am seeing that there is a larger amount of students that aren’t being accepted to the system because there are too many applying because of the budget crisis.”

Attempting to find community concerns and any proposed legislation in regards to the budget crisis, numerous calls and e-mails were made to 69th Assemblyman Jose Solorio’s office. However, after providing their office questions, they failed to comment on any of them.

High school students may be interested in knowing that although seven out of the nine UC schools in fall 2009 had a selectivity or admittance rate under 70%, UC Merced and UC Riverside are the only two UC schools that had their rate above 70%. According to the University of California website http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/admissions/undergrad_adm/selecting/camp_profiles.html, UC Merced had a selectivity rate of 77.8% and UC Riverside had a 78.3% selectivity rate. According to an April 2009 Los Angeles Times article that quotes Susan Wilbur, systems director of undergraduate admissions, http://articles.latimes.com/2009/apr/08/local/me-ucadmit8 it states:

…all students who were academically qualified for the university would find a UC spot, although not necessarily at campuses they preferred. About 10,000 eligible students who were rejected by all campuses to which they applied will be offered admission to Riverside and Merced this month…”

This does not necessarily mean that there is a greater chance of acceptance to these schools, but it does show that high school students still have available options if eager to apply within the UC system.

Thirsty for knowledge and determined to pursue their dreams, high school seniors are not the only group of students fighting for a spot within UC system. Tyler Parkinson, a second year student attending the University of Oregon is attempting to transfer out of state for the second time. “I applied to the University of San Diego, I got accepted and I ended up not going there because I wasn’t offered financial aid and my family didn’t want to take out a lot of loans especially since I don’t have to take any loans to go here (University of Oregon)” explained Parkinson.

Despite his previous setback, Parkinson is giving California another try. This time he’s asking UC Irvine for admission for fall quarter of 2010, knowing that getting accepted will be more of a challenge this year financially and academically.

“[My parent’s] concerns were the price because even though it’s more affordable than a private school, it’s still very expensive and actually just last week the price went up again which is like oh great! It’s even more of a long shot now than it was two weeks ago! Their other concern was the fact that because they have been hearing so much in the news about the budget cuts they weren’t sure if I would have trouble getting into my classes because there are less professors teaching” stated Parkinson.

A very motivated transfer student, Parkinson is persistent in applying despite the challenges that he might face if accepted to UC Irvine. He has emphasized that he will need to change his major from Business Administration to Economics, and in order to pay for his tuition will need to get an on campus job at the university. However, Parkinson has emphasized, “I’m not giving up regardless of the budget cuts and regardless in the spike of tuition because it’s something I want to do really badly and its been really important to me ever since college started.”

Even GUSD school board member Krikorian has been working rigorously with the school district to promote programs, seminars, and workshops that will fully educate students and parents in the application and financial aid process, especially during the budget crisis. “I can understand the anxiety among students and parents with the present crisis we’re in and we’re seeing more students getting more education [and] actually going into their masters programs. So they’re going out and getting more education, more degrees. I definitely do see the anxiety has risen,” stated Krikorian.

It’s a nail biting circumstance for students who are applying to UC Irvine for fall 2010. The determination to attain a higher education is inevitable, but this year is a critical year for students who are applying to schools facing budget cuts and fee increases such as UC Irvine. There is higher competitiveness, increased selectivity, and higher tuition costs. As everything goes up, the students admitted seems to be the only element that is going down. For high school students, the road to higher education this year is coarse and rough, but it’s a path that could eventually lead to a smoother journey.

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