Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What's Happening to Outreach?

by Jason Davis and Lauren Demello

December 1, 2009

Severe economic hardship has required faculty and employee furloughs and layoffs throughout the University of California education system. Many of the difficult decisions forced upon the UC have meant heavy, repeated blows to sports teams, Humanities, and various outreach programs, among others. UC Irvine has already seen the closure of one such outreach program, and the future of at least another remains uncertain. While many programs at UCI are making do with less funding for the 2009-2010 school year, still others are nervous about further cuts and potential closures for 2010-2011. Unfortunately, cuts from some of these programs directly affect services to the surrounding community. Although some of the services have been preserved in different entities, a climate of uncertainty persists.

In the spring of 2008, an outside review team at UCI recommended the closure of SAAS—the Student Academic Advancement Service, and a restructuring of its services to be adopted by other programs within the Division of Undergraduate Education. SAAS was federally funded, in part, by the US Department of Education to assist first-generation, low-income students, and offered study skills workshops, academic counseling, career planning, and tutoring to eligible students. SAAS was also responsible for the popular Summer Bridge and Transfer Bridge programs, which have thankfully been transferred to Student Support Services. According to Shelly Brown-Gunn, Associate Director of SSS, there were several recommendations in the report outlining how services could be improved or restructured. “The decision to close SAAS was a reaction to sudden and drastic budget cuts to DUE last summer. The Deans determined that a lot of what SAAS did for students had some duplication in other departments, so they had to make the ‘lesser of all evils’ decision of shutting down that department to be more efficient with the services provided in utilizing other departments already performing those services.” Some of the federally funded money that previously went to DUE for SAAS now goes to SSS, but Shelly said that it aspires to benefit the same students—roughly 450—for the same services—just under a different name.

Shelly reiterated that restructuring is still taking place and that DUE might not be done with layoffs to balance their budget. And that’s a lot of work to take on for a new organization that is essentially under-staffed. “DUE had to have multiple layoffs to achieve the budget savings after the cuts. Closing SAAS didn't solve the entire problem with the budget. Whenever a division has to do massive layoffs, there will be the issue of the remaining staff having to take on more responsibility to make up for the productivity losses. That is what happened with the restructuring of my department to take over part of what SAAS did. Choosing who to lay off is a heart-wrenching process and I don't envy the people that had to make such difficult decisions… I was shocked to hear they [SAAS] were being closed, and I didn't see that coming at all. But the DUE was shocked to get a nearly 20% cut—it was a million dollars that needed to be shaved from the current year's budget—a cut of that magnitude with that timing was unprecedented. It is just a dismal time for the UC and for California right now.”

Amidst the certainty of additional midyear cuts, the future of other student and community outreach programs is uncertain. Humanities Out There is a program designed to boost students’ reading, writing and critical thinking skills in secondary schools. This year, the partnership is with the Orange Unified School District and H.O.T. has focused its efforts on literature and history through a variety of historical, artistic, and scholarly publications. As Program Manager, Peggie Winters coordinates the recruitment of graduate instructors and UCI undergraduate students who tutor in the OUSD. Contrary to general perception, H.O.T. is not a recruiting tool for Humanities, nor is it open only to Humanities students. “Our tutors come from all over,” Peggie said. “We have pre-med students, information computer science students, and engineering students. We’re trying to introduce college level teaching at the high school. In the high schools that we go to, most of the students are going to be first generation college students. We’re trying to reach out to the groups of high school students that have never thought about going to college because no one in their families ever went to college.”

Jeff Lake, an eleventh grade English teacher at Orange High School, says that the Humanities Out There program is very well received by his students, and that the lesson plans are relevant to their studies. Although many of the students are unsure what they want to study after high school, Jeff says “H.O.T. is effective for any student, regardless of their future collegiate interests,” and that many of his students are considering college as a result of H.O.T. “I feel that my students have obtained some of the skills required to succeed in college. Most of the H.O.T. lessons have dealt with analytical writing, which is a skill students need to be well prepared for. Not only for success in their remaining years in high school, but for post-secondary writing courses they will need to complete [as well].”

There are currently one hundred UCI undergraduate students working under the instruction of six graduate students. Each undergrad then becomes a tutor to roughly four or five High School students; in total, H.O.T. provides college-level instruction to five hundred and forty High School students every quarter. Obviously, funding is an issue with such a large student staff, and until this year, H.O.T. was funded, in part, by a grant called Gear Up under the UCI Center for Educational Partnerships. With the latest installment of cuts to CFEP’s budget, H.O.T. was dropped from the grant. To stay afloat, H.O.T. has been receiving money from the School of Humanities. Next year, though, H.O.T. will only be receiving $20,000—a rate, Peggie says, is not enough. Dr. Stephanie Reyes-Tuccio, Director of CFEP, confirmed the cut. “HOT was heavily funded by CFEP in the early days. Those were the days that the CFEP received double the funding that it gets now. But [in] 2001, CFEP’s funding was cut [by] 50%. The next year, it was cut even more.

“My supervisor told me that we don’t have money to fund HOT,” she continued. “Gear up was designed to make school wide change in terms of scores in mathematics and language arts.” But since H.O.T. was only offered in two classrooms for each school, it just didn’t affect the number of students needed to justify its support. “That’s the capacity that HOT has based on their funding. So, there’s no way that we could or did affect school wide increases in scores when HOT can only service two courses.” Since CFEP has been unable to increase funding to 2001 levels, H.O.T. lost its inclusion in the grant. “There’s no funding to support H.O.T.,” said Dr. Tuccio, “and there hasn’t been for a while.”

Responding to the question of SAAS, Dr. Tuccio said she was devastated and questioned whether the reduced staff of SSS could appropriately handle the increased load. “We’re still new in the academic year. At this point it’s hard to tell what will happen. I [recently] met with the Associate Dean and was briefed on SSS and the takeover of SAAS. But she was optimistic about how they would take all the different components of SAAS programming and distribute it to different organizations across campus. And her feeling was that things would be done more efficiently in time… I’m going to be watching very closely to see how this transition goes and to make sure the needs of the students are being met because I’m accountable. I was recently told that SAAS would have been serving many more students this year.” But a restructuring of Humanities Out There, similar to what happened with SAAS, would not be a welcomed alternative for H.O.T., says Julia Lupton, H.O.T.’s founder. “I feel that something that makes HOT special is the [graduate] research and the interest of [local] schools. I think if it were taken over by another group on campus it would just turn into a homework help thing. It would be very different from what HOT currently delivers.”

Unfortunately, when programs are unable to support themselves financially, they are the first to see cuts. Initially, there was “a host of different outreach programs across campus. CFEP was [created] to get everyone in one place and have synergy, to leverage everyone’s efforts and to have a more strategic outreach toward the schools instead of everyone doing their own thing.” Dr. Tuccio noted the difficulty in keeping these programs running, and although CFEP has written three proposals for the Gear Up grant, she said it isn’t enough to sustain programs at their current level of funding. “Schools don’t have money to fund the programs so they come to me for additional support. Unfortunately it is at a time when the campus is cutting me, so I have less support to offer them.”

CFEP, too, is going through changes. It also is downsizing and they are moving to a new location—a smaller and less accessible location. In the “old days,” before there were budget constrictions, CFEP used to publish lesson plans collaborated for H.O.T. by UCI graduate students and local High School teachers. The lesson plans haven’t been printed in three years, but electronic documents are routinely requested from all over the world. According to Julia, these publications aren’t remedial pamphlets, and teachers and students in any school can use them, even if they were never affiliated with H.O.T.

If Humanities Out There were to close for school year 2010-2011, it would mainly affect those in the community that wouldn’t be exposed to college level thinking and writing. With H.O.T., underserved and diverse groups of students are learning firsthand that college is a realistic, worthwhile, and rewarding endeavor. At UCI, losing H.O.T. will primarily affect graduate students whose departments do not fund TA-ships, and the undergrads who tutor within the surrounding communities. Jeff Lake feels the H.O.T. tutors are very effective, and that his students look up to them as “experts in the field.“

“If H.O.T. is not able to return next year,” remarked Jeff, “I feel my students will miss out on a valuable opportunity for small group instruction and a ‘window’ into the college life that the tutors provide.”

Although Julia Lupton is not no longer involved with H.O.T., she understands the current situation. “The fact that we have survived this year amazes me, and the fact that we weren’t cut last year. It’s sort of an end to an era,” she remarked. “If the money comes back, [maybe] we can start up the program again. We do have a really nice structure with graduate students developing content and undergraduate students getting to teach the content. So my hope is that it will be brought back and that this is just hibernation. I want this to build back up within the school of humanities.” As for Peggie Winters—who had become teary eyed at the mention of closure—she suspects the school will make an effort to relocate her into another administrative role. “It’s extremely frustrating to be struggling like we are,” she said. “We are borderline depressed about it. We feel helpless because there’s nothing we can do. We feel bad, but we understand the economy. The sad thing is, I feel the way we are being treated is that this program is a luxury.

“This program is not a luxury.”


The Center for Educational Partnerships is a division of Student Affairs and works to create “collaborations that support preparation for and success in higher education… in order to achieve the University of California's goal of academic excellence.”

Student Academic Advancement Services closed on August 31, 2009. None of the previous counselors could be reached for comment.

Student Support Services is continuing many of the functions previously offered by SAAS, albeit with a reduced staff. The Division of Undergraduate Education is monitoring its transition.

Humanities Out There is continuing its mission in the Orange Unified School District for the remainder of the 2009-2010 school year.

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