Monday, November 16, 2009

Money Matters: Is the cost of attending a UC now unattainable?

By: Jenna Benty

Class. Work. Study. Work. Class. Repeat. Jean (who asked that her last name not be disclosed) a business student at University of California Irvine, may seem like the typical student. However, most do not know that all this work is needed just to be able to attend a UC school. In the midst of her typical chaotic day, she was able to spare a couple moments to talk about the recent budget cuts and their affect on her as a low-income student. At the University of California, Irvine budget cuts seem to be the main concern circulating around campus. According to Cathy Lawhon, the Director of Media Relations at UCI, as of early August 2009, the “cuts imposed in the state budget...[pushed the UCI] budget cut up to $77 million now.” With budget cuts soaring through the roof, the University of California administration is looking to a possible tuition increase to help overcome the large cuts. In this new proposal by University of California President Mark Yudof, there will be a tuition increase for undergraduate students of $585 starting in January 2010 and an increase of $1,344 starting in fall 2010. However, these fee increases do not alarm students such as Jean, because the new proposition does not look to cut financial aid. In fact, the proposition states that “one-third of the revenue generated from any undergraduate fee increase would be set aside to mitigate the impact of higher fees on undergraduate students with financial need.” Jean claims that she is “one of the lucky ones,” and that because she falls under the $60,000 dollar a year cap for financial aid, she still qualifies for Cal grants, work-study, and other financial aid programs. Jean’s main goal at UC Irvine is to keep her GPA up so she can continue to receive the financial aid she needs to attend. She states that “if [her] GPA drops, [she] will lose a lot of financial aid, and [she] would have to drop out.”

Jean believes it is those borderline students; the students who barely miss the “Blue and Gold Opportunity” program who will be affected the most. The “Blue and Gold Opportunity” program assists students who fall under the $60,000 dollars a year in income by covering their fees through grants, scholarships and other financial programs. Jean has already seen the effect of the tuition spikes affect her friends. She witnessed one of her friends “find a second job because the first job did not pay enough to fund his tuition, he is a full time student with two jobs.” In another case, two of Jean’s friends had to “drop out of UC Irvine all together to go to a community college because they couldn’t pay the tuition.” The students are struggling with funding their education even before these new tuition spikes are implemented. Jean was a member of the recently cut program known as SAAS, or the Student Academic Advancement Services, which helped support low-income, first generation or disabled students. Past SAAS Peer Advisor Deborah Lee, who graduated Magna Cum Laude in June 2009, now witnesses the effect of the budget cuts on her past low-income students from afar. Deborah was also a low-income student until she graduated as a Criminology, Law and Society major, so she has worked first hand with the stress that comes with financial aid and paying for college. As a peer advisor to the SAAS program she worked to recruit individuals to the program, which was a challenge for the first time in 2009. She claims “the lack of response was due mostly to the economic situation. These prospective students who are first generation, low-income students had decided not to attend the university anymore…the tuition increase would be devastating especially towards first generation college students and low income students.” Tuition increases have already affected low-income students and their ability to attend a University of California. The average parent income for full year applicants has drastically increased from the year 2000. According to the Regents of the University of California, in 2000 the average parent income of a student at UC Irvine averaged at $77,662 and for the year 2009 has sky-rocked to an average parent income of $98,439.

Ironically, the program SAAS was recently eliminated due to budget cuts, considering these are the students that are largely affected by the budget cuts and tuition increases. When talking to past SAAS students and now ex-coworkers, Deborah was shocked to find “the students were rationing their food in order to fight the termination and tuition increase just so they could have the opportunity to study abroad.”

Low-income students have now taken the budget problems from both ends, not only will they have to pay a higher tuition; important programs that assisted them in financial aid are being cut. Former SAAS student Leandra Ordorica states “SAAS has helped me find resources to be able to pay for UCI. Every time I applied for a scholarship, there was always someone there to write me a letter of recommendation.” These small amenities make the largest impact on the low-income students where finances are constantly a concern. Not only did the SAAS program assist in finding low-income students scholarships, “each counselor sat down personally with a student to see what their specific needs and goals were. After assessing each individuals students ambitions, they would personally find a type of aid that fit their specific needs,” according to Deborah Lee.

For the weeks leading up to the much anticipated UC regents vote on whether there should be a 32% increase in tuition, students on the UC Irvine campus have been holding “Teach-ins” to keep students aware of the issues at hand. One of the questions being brought up: how are students going to handle the tuition increase and budget cuts financially? On November 16, a “Teach-in” directed by students Patrick Lee and Emmeline Domingo brought the financial question to the forefront. The possible tuition increase was questioned at many levels, including the low-income “Blue and Gold Program.” Through this new tuition increase, President Yudof claims that he will raise the income cap from $60,000 a year to $70,000 a year requirement and that their financial aid will be protected through fundraising.

Emmeline Domingo questioned his proposition, “Yudof states he will fundraise, but from where? He did not specify and it is implied that it will come from our own pockets. And if we had the resources to fundraise for us in the beginning, why aren’t we taping them now? Or why haven’t we tapped them before?” With the threat to tuition increases fast approaching, students are already feeling the hit on their wallets, and their grades. Many are unaware that the tuition increased for the 2009-2010 school year by 9.5%, and according to Emmeline “the quality of our education is [still] decreasing… the quality of our education is not dependent on how much we pay, because really isn’t the quality dependent on us students? If we have to pay more…we will have to take out loans on top of loans…that means we have to work more, we can’t focus on school as much and others will have to withdraw all together.” The fee increase now poses a threat to our quality of education, which is already evident as we have dropped in ranking from 44th to 46th reported by US news.

As the teach-in progressed, students began revealing their personal struggles with paying for their higher education. Tia Peterson, a grad student of the School of Psychology and Social Behavior explained how the fee increase and the budget cuts have affected her quality of education. She explains that her quest to graduate education has been “incredibly disappointing, the cost of trying to take [her] education in steps has become overwhelming.” The graduate program at UC Irvine operates much differently then the undergraduate program. The typical graduate student will sign a contract for a period of time in which they will be employed by the school while receiving their graduate education. However, due to the budget cuts, the funding used to employ these students has been cut, and even students such as Tia who are in good standing in their department have to take out large loans to pay for school. The “Blue and Gold Program,” is not accessible to graduate students, so students with very low incomes are not receiving any assistance from the school. The lack of funds forced Tia to take out loans “a total of four grand, to cover tuition even though [she] is not taking any classes or doing anything except training [resident advisors] and collecting research data.” The excessive amount of loans the graduate students are filling out are going directly to the school, and in essence they paying the school to be allowed to work and not receiving any compensation in return.

As Tia reflects on her pursuit for higher education, her disappointment is undeniable, she states “I have put more then a decade of my life into my education and into trying to educate people, and in the end will have paid very very dearly for it.” One by one students stood up to share their struggles with the financial aspect of higher education. Another student participating in the "teach-in" describes her struggle as a middle class student. Despite the fact that she is out of the range for any type of financial aid, she still “hold[s] three jobs and works about 20 hours per week,” to support her education. The fee increase will no longer affect the lower income families but branch out to the middle class families as well, which make up the majority of the UCs. Those students who are not covered by financial aid packages and those who cannot afford to pay more will end up being squeezed out of the UCs and will have their pockets drained. Though each story was different, they all left a negative impact on their studies, their extracurriculars and their college life.

Not only are low-income students fighting to keep the administration from cutting programs detrimental to their financial research, they are now fighting against an even large threat, a large tuition increase. The UC Regents board will be meeting at UCLA Tuesday November 17th and Wednesday November 18th to discuss the possible tuition increase and will come to a vote Wednesday November 18th. This may be the determining factor for many current and prospective students whether a UC education is in their grasp financially.


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