There is a corner in my home where old newspapers, classroom handouts, and unused books seem to always accumulate. I feel I should toss everything away, but can’t. I am too afraid that I will need it later on, and sometimes, I do.
Needless to say, that corner tends to be only a stopover, and everything there gradually finds its way to the dump.
Unfortunately, the University of California and California State University systems seem to have adopted a similar arrangement, only they refer to their stopover as community colleges.
Community colleges are where 4-year universities toss away those students they cannot find seats for because of budget restraints. In fact, California’s 4-year universities are finding it way too easy to say they are not turning away students from a higher education. They simply tell these students to start their first two years at a community college, and then come back and apply later.
By doing this, their conscience is clean. This way, they can still maintain their public image and say they are still performing the task they originally set out to do: to provide top notch higher education that was accessible to everyone, not just to those who could pony up the hefty tuition costs of private universities.
This was, after all, the initial goal of state universities. In an academic world where the cost of private institutions logistically locks out working families, state universities were supposed to provide an opportunity. This was extremely important, considering that social and economic advancement in this country seems to be almost solely based on the factor of education.
So when the UCs and CSUs began to see their budgets dwindle, and applications to their classrooms increase, there was worry that this education might no longer be accessible. But they found a solution by tossing the overflow of students in their own neglected corner, still claiming that no one was being “turned away.”
They are wrong.
Of course, this is not directly the fault of these institutions. What choices are they left with when their budgets are being cut back year after year?
In his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush mentioned the important role community colleges play in educating our population. When translated, this means, “pick up the slack our 4-year universities can’t afford anymore.” And community colleges aren’t getting any more money, either.
And so, community colleges across the nation are seeing record enrollment figures. More and more students are attending community colleges, not because the economic value of an Associate’s degree has suddenly and miraculously inflated, but because they are being diverted from other institutions.
In California, more than 10,000 students were turned away from CSUs and UCs, even though they were perfectly qualified. The UCs and CSUs were simply telling students to apply to community colleges, and to try again in two years, as if community colleges never run out of seats.
As a result of the 10,000 students being diverted, community colleges were forced to cut back on classes. Community colleges cannot, in theory, turn away students, but if there are no classes available to them, turning students away is inevitable.
But it didn’t matter, as Sacramento and Washington D.C. could still sleep soundly, claiming education was just as available as before.
Meanwhile, more students are being herded into the corner, with no way out.
Unfortunately, the promise made by CSU and UC administrators of making higher education accessible to everyone is reliant on too many factors, and on too many people controlling too much money.
K-12 education seems to be falling short just as well, dropping students at an alarming rate.
I suppose education is not as important as it was drilled into me for 12 years. Our legislators don’t see a need to invest in education, so they’ll keep shoving it into their corner.
Community colleges can’t keep up with the pace, and so more students are being shoved in a relentless economy, where Wal-Mart and fast food chains are the only available jobs to young people. Then, college seems but a distant dream, forgotten during their work routine.
Legislators should be careful when cutting back on education, as they have been doing for so long now. You never know when you are going to throw something away, only to find out you are in desperate need of it later. Some things are worth keeping, saving and investing in. They could be valuable later on. There are times when it just does not make sense to cut back on education.
Are we still in a recession?