Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Students and Educators Feel Constraints of Budget Cuts; Stress to Continue for a Year

Here is a brand new article I wrote for an assignment. I really think it showcases some statistical and human viewpoints about the budget cuts affecting educators and students in the state of California. Of course this isn't all inclusive, but I hope you learn something from this. It seems as if every time I read something about budget cuts, no matter how many words my eyes skim over, no one really tells you anything. All people say is that our state is experiencing financial stress. Well why? No one asks this simple, important question. Enjoy!

Campus springs to life with the hubbub of students walking quickly to class. Thousands of students circle the campus parking lots like bees swarming a bee-hive, hungry for honey: a parking spot. Others park in residential neighborhoods and walk 15 or 20 minutes to campus, oftentimes sweating in the profusely hot Fullerton sun.

Commutes are long. Tensions are high. Homework is due. Buildings are hot. Too hot. Air conditioning seemingly hasn’t been felt in any classroom. Pocket books have been hurt. As students registered in the summer for the fall 2009 semester, sighs of relief were passed as they signed up for the classes they needed, yet surprised at the new tuition increase. Others, like seniors, couldn’t get every class they need to graduate.

As tuition rates increased in the beginning of the fall 2009 semester by $300, as teachers received a 10 percent pay cut, and as both students and professors deal with furlough days, school days are starting to exhaust educators and those being educated.

“(The administration) will say things like ‘It’s hard, but we need to educate our 35,000 students and not compromise on quality,’” said a CSUF professor who wishes to remain anonymous. “Well, quality is compromised. They can pretend, but it’s compromised. My students aren’t getting what they should be getting from me.”

When students registered in the summer for their fall 2009 semester classes at California State University, Fullerton, tuition rates increased by $300, to much surprise. Tina Ho, a senior, feels outraged by everything that has occurred this current semester, especially the tuition fees and the new 2% charge to pay for tuition with a Visa card online.

“How absolutely insane is that?!” Ho said. “I mean, knowing that most students will have to charge some fees on their credit cards…and knowing that that is the most used (payment method) and to charge you interest on top of interest you already have to pay… things like that absolutely drive me up the wall.”

The Board of Trustees voted for the $300 tuition increase. This increase has often left students scrambling to find this extra money. Ho was laid off from her job last month, but luckily she has financial aid. The financial aid covers her tuition, but not the price of textbooks.

“So when tuition first increased I was quite worried,” Ho said. “$300 isn’t a small amount for students.”

Fortunately, since Ho is a senior, she did not have any trouble registering for classes, but this isn’t the case with all students statewide.

Farrah Beattie, 25, is a student at Palomar Community College in San Marcos, California – a school that teaches more students than CSUF, in a much smaller physical campus. Beattie has been at Palomar for seven years, only taking one or two classes per semester. When registering for this fall semester, she couldn’t get an important math class she needs for her major. Rather, she must take the class in the spring, thus postponing her more.

“I had tried to crash the class on two separate days, both of those I sat in the very front, crowded at a table. The head count was around 47. There seemed to be a universal stink-eye staring at me the whole class time. As class ended, students were mockingly wishing me good luck with crashing.” Beattie was tenth on the waitlist and didn’t get in to Math 205.

Beattie feels, just as CSUF students feel, that Palomar is too crowded. She feels that incoming freshmen should not have priority over her. And, since Palomar lets anyone in, she feels that the school officials should start requiring an admission essay to be written, to weed out the serious students from the lazy ones, just like UC and CSU schools require.

While overcrowding is a concern at CSUF, there is a reason why. This semester is different from previous semesters because the CSU system, which is headed by the chancellor, has set an enrollment cap. Students, especially seniors, cannot get the one last class they need. The CSUF professor who wishes to remain anonymous has said that:

“We get funding from the state based on enrollment. It’s based on bodies in chairs. And if we go over the target, the state has set for us…we actually lose money. So the school is trying to hit a very specific target. If we go over, we can’t afford to lose any money right now. I’ve got classes of 45, but the classroom can seat 55.”

Students can only take 16 units maximum; if they’d like to take more, they must petition the school and even then, students might not be allowed to take more units.

This enrollment cap and unit cap set by the CSU system goes hand-in-hand with furlough days. A furlough is a leave of absence. The anonymous professor loves teaching, but feels that extra students equates to extra work, so she is relieved there is a cap. However, although she teaches 45 students, rather than the 55 maximum for each class, she and all CSUF professors and staff employees deal with furlough days.

Everyone received a 10 percent pay cut in lieu of being laid off, and this means that professors have 90 percent of the time to grade papers, prepare lectures, and conduct research, with 90 percent of pay. Aside from four furlough days which occurred campus-wide in mid-October 2009, each professor at CSUF has selected his or her own furlough days on top of the school-wide furlough in October. When school isn’t in session as much, professors fall behind in the curriculum.

Everything is interrelated in this budget-crisis era. Enrollment caps are set. Professors and faculty are furloughed. Work must be completed in less time. Waitlists are set. The computer takes care of the waitlist/enrollment process, which eliminates human workers.

Chuck Marchese, a Regional Field Representative for the California Faculty Association agrees that students and professors at CSU schools have felt this impact. He listens to faculty grievances, works with faculty members to fight the budget cuts, organizes student protests and helps with lobbying the California government on behalf of the Cal State University system, among other tasks.

Fewer students were admitted to the CSU system, there are fewer class and course offerings available, it will likely take students longer to graduate and student fees continue to rise,” Marchese said. “Because of the furloughs, faculty will receive almost 10 percent less in salary for the year, plus they did not receive the salary increases they were entitled to last year. For a variety of reasons, e.g. increase in class sizes because of fewer course offerings, most faculty actually had an increase in workload coupled with a reduction in pay."

So why has the Board of Trustees set a very specific enrollment cap and why are faculty furloughed? To save money. But, before this crisis-semester, for the school year of 2008-2009, all 23 CSU campuses received about $2,970,706,000. The 2009-2010 budget allocation from the state to be given to the CSU system was supposed to be $3,271,876,000 – to be split amongst all campuses. Rounding down, this $3 billion dollar amount is stated in a PDF from the System Budget Office of the CSU system, written March 5, 2009. However, at the start of this fall 2009 semester, the entire CSU budget was slashed by $571 million. The California legislature committed the slashing.

When students registered for classes in the summer, they did not have any idea why the tuition increased; meanwhile budget cuts were being discussed in Sacramento.

A revised PDF dated July 31, 2009 from the System Budget Office states that: “On July 28, 2009, the Governor signed budget bill ABX4_1 from the Legislature’s Fourth Extraordinary Session that amends and supplements the Budget Act of 2009 to close the additional state budget shortfall. As a result, CSU incurs a $571 million General Fund budget reduction in 2009/2010.”

The amount in the March 5, 2009 PDF is $3,271,876,000. This amount minus $571 million equals $2,700,876,000 (about $2.7 billion) to be split amongst all 23 CSU campuses. The July 31, 2009 PDF says the 2009 to 2010 (fall 2009 semester to spring 2010 semester) amount to be given to the CSU system after the assembly bill was signed into law is to be $2,337,951,649 ($2.3 billion). Adjustments were made in the newer PDF, but $2.3 billion isn’t much to be spread to all 23 campuses.

One of the reasons tuition increased is because it costs money to run each campus. Professors and staff must be paid. Buildings must be maintained. But just how much does it cost to run each campus? No one seems to know, as it depends on campus size and number of students. However, the March 5, 2009 PDF states this:

“Mandatory costs are expenditure obligations the university must pay whether or not funding is received from the state or from student fee revenue. Mandatory cost obligations were identified in the CSU 2009/2010 budget plan that was adopted by the CSU Board of Trustees at its November 2008 meeting and include increases in employer-paid health benefits, dental benefits, and energy costs (and) the 2009/2010 faculty Post-Promotion Increase program…”

There are several things the Board of Trustees has tried to do to save itself from more debt, such as tuition increases, furlough days, and ten percent pay cuts all across campuses. What does Marchese feel the Board of Trustees should do to improve the situation?

The Board Of Trustees needs to aggressively lobby the legislature and Governor for adequate funding, support revenue bills such as assembly bill 656 which will generate approximately $1 billion a year funding for higher education, and open the books of their campus auxiliary funds which likely contain monies that can be used for restoring classes,” he said.

And how are the Board of Trustees actions affecting professors?

“I don’t know my students as well as I’d like to because usually I have fewer classes” said the CSUF professor. “I think it’s important to know your students. And I really like my colleagues here. They’re really nice and they’ve been really supportive. But morale is low.”

Tina Ho feels like morale is low for students, too.

“Is there even any morale left?” Ho said. “Honestly, we are students, and last time I checked, being a student means we don’t have much money…” Ho also mentioned that she’s very upset that parking permits now cost so much more than they did a year ago. Permits are now $162, versus $144 a year ago. Although CSUF is in debt, is it ethical for the people in charge to increase the price of permits, knowing there are not any more available spaces?

“It makes me angry just thinking about it,” Ho said. “I think it’s unfair and the biggest rip-off. I don’t even understand it.”

Students aren’t the only confused ones. Professors are given different, changing answers.

The anonymous professor said that she is upset because everyone received a 10 percent pay cut. She would have preferred that the top administration people who make hundreds of thousands a year to perhaps have received a 15 percent pay cut, and the bottom administration workers should have received perhaps only five percent pay cut. However, a discussion wasn’t allowed, and everyone received the same 10 percent pay cut.

The average administration worker working on campus received a pay cut and works fewer days. There is only 90 percent of the time to complete important paperwork – amongst paperwork pertaining to everything students do.

By voting for governor, lieutenant governor, and the superintendent of public instruction, voters vote for these candidates as Board of Trustees members, according to “Politics and Government in California.” The governor also appoints other members, so the public does not have a say in who gets chosen. The Board of Trustees lobbies to the California legislature, but since the public doesn’t really know who many members are, students have to contend with their decisions.

Professors expect furloughs to occur for the next two or three years, although they only know that the spring 2010 semester will in fact be another semester full of furlough days and enrollment caps, according to the CSUF professor. And what are Marchese’s thoughts? He said that furloughs technically end in June 2010 but are contingent upon agreements between the CSU (i.e. Chancellor and his staff) and the California Faculty Association.

Technically the furlough agreement that was negotiated between the CSU and CFA expires at the end of June…” Marchese said. “Any and all matters related to terms and conditions of work, including for example furloughs, are subject to bargaining between the CSU and CFA.”

Although morale is low overall, advisors and counselors do their best to give students correct answers regarding reaching graduation goals. Professors really do love helping students and do care.

“I still really enjoy working with students and helping them when I can” said the CSUF professor. “And I really like what the Cal State System is supposed to be. Which they’re (the government) slowly destroying. But it’s supposed to make higher education accessible to folks who otherwise might not be able to go to school. It’s just supposed to create a solid, educated workforce for the state, which is important. And I really like the idea of being a part of that…Education is really important. It’s (still) a great investment.”

1 comment:

  1. Great analysis with the recurring question of "why" with no answers that make any sense. Students are getting short changed and in the end so is the State of California by not having an educated work force.