It’s not always sunny in California.
Few were spared from the Governor’s drastic budget cuts. $6.5 billion slashed from K-14 education. $2 billion from UC and CSU. $1.3 billion from Medi-Cal. $1.8 billion from municipal government funds. $1 billion from social services for the elderly, disabled and uninsured.
That, and the Legislature is now trying to sue the Governor for using line-item vetos on existing appropriations in an effort to close a $26 billion state budget deficit and also create a $500 million rainy day fund. A trial that will cost the State millions more in attorneys’ fees.
It’s really not sunny in California anymore.
Nearly everyone in the State is feeling the bite of the budget cuts. But one group that is feeling it the most is also the group that has the least amount of resources to help itself – students.
“Probably one of the most exciting things that has ever happened to me was getting into UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), my dream school. It’s really sad to think about how naïve I was about this whole situation. My dream school is causing me to have some pretty bad nightmares, ” says Maryam Sulaimon*.
Maryam is one of many students in the UC system forced to deal with the realities of the State budget cuts to education on her own. A transfer student from one of California’s community colleges to UCLA, Maryam had done everything she was supposed to receive her high quality UC education. But what she was not at all prepared for was the financial toll that attending a UC would take.
“I came in with a little over $8,000 in savings from working two full time jobs during community college. Now, after only one year at UCLA, I’m going to be about $15,000 in debt.”
And Maryam Sulaimon isn’t alone. With the current state of the economy, more and more students are finding themselves shouldering the cost of their education on their own, as the increasingly mounting rate of unemployment in California leaves one or both of their parents unemployed.
While one might expect that to mean more financial aid for such students, that is not the case. Both the student and parent contribution towards financial aid are calculated off of income earnings from the previous fiscal year, thanks to FAFSA. Thus, financial aid for academic year 2009-10 is based on the student and parents’ income from fiscal year 2008.
When Maryam saw her financial aid statement for academic year 2009-10, she was shocked.
“I was honestly, stunned. I had only received about $6,000 from financial aid. For some reason, I was expected to contribute about $5,000 of my own money and my parents were expected to contribute about $7,000. I guess the government failed to realize that my mother had lost her job about four months prior, my parents have to pay college tuition for my three other siblings, and that I haven’t had a job since I was in community college, which was over a year ago! I don’t know where they expect for me to come up with this money.”
On average, students from the UC are graduating with over $20,000 of debt. Transfer students tend to suffer more, due to lack of information about funding resources or simply due to the adjustment of transferring.
The situation is not improving any time soon. Undergraduate student fees at the UC have been on the rise since 2001. State funding has decreased since 2004, despite Governor Schwarzenegger’s promise to increase funding by 3-4% as part of the 2004 Higher Education Compact. The UC is overenrolled and is now cutting enrollment to all campuses except UC Berkeley and UCLA, despite the promise to fund 2.5% enrollment growth as part of the Compact to all campuses. According to Associate Vice Chancellor Glyn Davies, UCLA alone is overenrolled by approximately 1900 students.
Now the system may even break its promise to guarantee admissions to community college students and the top 12.5% of high school students. The UC now receives less than 20% of its funds from the State, making it more a private than a public institution. And like other “privatized” public institutions, such as UVA and University of Michigan, the concern is whether California residents will soon have to compete with out-of-state students. And why not? Every 150 out-of-state students result in $3 million in revenue to the UC. AVC Davies says it’s a very likely that UCLA will be seeing more out-of-state students soon.
The fact remains that the UC is $715million short for 2009-10 alone. That’s already taking into consideration federal funding from Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. UCLA is short $131 million. Student fees, with the 9.3% increase, will cover $7.5 million. Another $63 million will come from salary and campus cuts. The remaining $60.5 million in cuts has yet to be determined.
Thanks to the impact of budget cuts on the campus, Maryam Sulaimon and all students will find themselves struggling academically as well as financially. In a statement by Chancellor Block, students will have 165 less classes to choose from this Fall 2009, a 10% decrease from Fall 2008. Class sizes will increase. There will be fewer and larger TA sections. The impact on students’ ability to complete their degrees in a timely manner with fewer classes available is one of many questions that still remain unanswered.
What does all of this mean for Maryam? It means that she’ll probably be staying a third year at UCLA, and a fifth year in college. It means she will probably see another 10% fee increase in 2010-11. It means she will have twice the financial burden of this year since Cal Grant only covers four years of college.
So much for a tuition free education.
*Name has been changed for privacy purposes.