Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Cost of Quality

By Morgan Slade

In the Cross Cultural Center, the distant hum of the overhead projector echoes throughout the room. Thirteen students shuffle in and quietly prepare for the tuition hike ‘teach-in’ to begin, one of many held on the UCI campus two days before the UC Regents passed the 32 percent educational fee increase.

Teach-in organizer Tia Peterson, Graduate student of Psychology and Social Behavior, addresses the gathering, warning that further fee increases will result in an education that leaves students financially and emotionally bankrupt. Peterson states,

"I came to UCI because I was highly recruited. The deal was that I attend UCI with full financial support because they were invested in the contributions I could offer as a member of their research team. I have lived up to my end of the deal. I have published articles, done numerous studies, graded papers and mentored many undergraduates. I have trained undergrads to become R.A.’s and have written their letters of recommendation. I have passed my comprehensive exams, finished my second year project and earned my masters degree. I have done all of these things and done them well. In the end it does not matter how hard I have worked because due to a lack of funding in my department I get dropped anyway. I have fulfilled my duty to the university. They have broken their promise to me."

Student activist and organizer Emmeline Domingo also speaks at the teach-in, stating, “We don’t elect our regents. They are appointed to us. So the question that immediately arises is whether they are invested in the students or are their interests purely political?”

The common assumption at this meeting and in discussions among students and faculty across campus is that the tuition hike, brought on by California’s fiscal constraints, is a calamitous breach of trust. Many students argue that the 32 percent fee hike is forcing them to bail out the UC system. In exchange, the student body will be devoid of diversity as middle and lower income students are unable to absorb the fee increase; resulting in many qualified yet discouraged applicants from contributing to the nexus of ideas that comprised our formerly accessible UC system. But is this really the case?

While the UCLA protest displayed the impassioned resistance of students, in fact, there is some evidence to suggest that the hikes are providing opportunity that was previously unavailable.

According to an action item addressed to the Office of the President’s Committee on Finance, “Of the $505.1 million that mid-year 2009-10 and 2010-11 fee increases would generate, approximately $175.1 million would be set aside for financial aid; the rest would be used to address State budget reductions, mandatory cost increases, and other pressing needs” (http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/regents/regmeet/nov09/f1.pdf).

Throughout 2009-10 the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan has accommodated fee increases for undergraduate students whose family income is less than $60k. In 2010-11 the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan will expand its funding to meet the needs of undergraduate students whose family income is capped at $70k.

Ricardo Vazquez, contributor to the UC Newsroom shares, “With the income cut-off set at the median income for California households, the plan will potentially extend to half of all California households […] The Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan will initially provide a minimum level of gift assistance for 48,100 eligible California-resident students” (UC Regents approve policy providing minimum aid for lower-income students).

According to the Committee on Finance, the expansion of The Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan will:

"Provide system wide fee coverage to an additional 800 students who were not previously eligible for participation in the Plan. The overall benefit to increasing the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan is not only to raise the financial aid income threshold for current UC students, but also to encourage a greater number of low income students to apply and hopefully be enrolled at the University of California."

In addition to the expansion of the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan the University is working to mitigate some of the strain presented to middle class students. The University will cover one-half of the fee increase for middle income students who have become financially impacted by higher fees and would have otherwise been excluded from grant assistance as eligibility was designated for families whose income was capped at $100k but now includes families with incomes as high as $120k. In fact, students with incomes below $180k will experience greater accessibility to resources previously untapped.

The Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan coupled with increased Pell Grant/ Cal Grant resources and lax UC Grant eligibility requirements all serve to maintain the UC’s commitment of assisting low and middle income students.

Yes, California is in the red. Due to the onset of tuition hikes students have been enlisted to combat President Yudof's threat of mediocrity. However the student fee increase isn’t the only casualty produced by the budget crisis. Over 2000 employees are expected to face layoffs between this year and next. The UC system is experiencing the loss of respected faculty to various institutions with no projection as to when they will be replaced. Hours have diminished, programs have been deserted and positions have been confiscated. Perhaps the fee increase is an unjustifiable means to an end. However when considering the benefits reaped from salvaging the integrity of the UC system one must ask themselves if they are willing to contribute to the quality of their own education.

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