May 22, 2013
College Budget Cuts Make Life Grueling for America’s Young and Unemployed
Posted on Jun 13, 2012
By Howie Stier
The vast quad of Los Angeles City College, rimmed by a jumble of architectural styles, boasts the ubiquitous footpaths and the patch of green found at so many American campuses. But come summer, the college that once burgeoned such culture makers as poet Charles Bukowski and filmmakers the Hughes brothers will largely lie fallow.
“We had to give our students notice in April that we didn’t have funds for summer classes,” said Dr. Jamillah Moore, president of the college. “But this is not a surprise. This is our fourth year facing some reduction because of the state deficit.” When Moore took the helm in 2008, the school had a $67 million annual budget, eroded now to $50 million even as a poor job market has increased demand for affordable education.
The California state college system endured budget cuts before the Great Recession, took a pounding during it and was on the ropes entering the 2009 recovery, losing a total of $1.6 billion in the past 10 years, the L.A. Times reports. Word this past May from Gov. Jerry Brown of a budget deficit hovering around $16 billion is the crushing body blow that’s readied the schools for a standing eight.
Although L.A. City College will provide summer courses in professional programs—dental, technology, radiologic technology and nursing—most students at LACC and at other Los Angeles community colleges are out of luck. “Since I arrived, we haven’t been more hard hit than Trade Tech, Pierce, Harbor—we’ve all been hit,” Moore explains, citing other schools in the nine campus Los Angeles Community College District. Moore says those affected can commute to another campus this summer; East Los Angeles College, for example, remains open. But students say that is not a viable option.
“I wanted to take my general courses in English and math this summer, but the students at East L.A. get first pick. By the time I could sign up, classes were closed out,” said Jessie Amado, 23, who was hawking brownies at a buck apiece to fund the LACC theater club. Had she gotten in to the alternative campus courses, her commute from Long Beach would have been two hours each way. With no class work and no job, she awaits an unpaid internship at Universal Studios or Capitol Records to salvage her summer. The theater major says that because of the cuts it will take her three years rather than two to earn enough credits to transfer to a four year college. And when she does, she will leave the state.
The grinding misery of the 21st century beats down on these students as relentlessly as the Southern California sun on the broken Hollywood pavement surrounding their LACC campus. Many here lost jobs and so enrolled in school. Now there’s no school.
These are parents and military veterans and new Americans with Russian, Tagalog, Armenian and Spanish as their first language, and in a county where 17.6 percent are living below the poverty line, many scramble for bus fare just to get to classes. The Los Angeles County I-TAP (Transit Access Pass) program, which allowed students to get to their desired campuses by paying only $20 per semester for public transportation, has also been canceled. And for many of these undergraduates, education is a dire matter of survival, the only way up from Wal-Mart job status; if they fail here there is no fallback position. And now they are resigned to the fact that what should be a two year path to a brighter future will be a struggle for them to complete in three.
“I’m trying to get a degree to get a better job, and it got a little crazy, taking care of my third grade son,” said Dena Leichnitz, 42, who worked part time to complete her course work and benefited from a district Board of Governors fee waiver and a book program. “But I would have graduated last year if classes weren’t canceled in winter 2011 and summer 2010.” And course cancellations aren’t the only effects of budget cuts, said the single mother active in student government. “Costs jumped from $26 to $36 per credit. Now they are talking going to $46 and you’re getting less and less for the money. For example, we had tutoring. The only reason I got through my math class—beginning algebra—was having a mentor, and I went from getting an F to a B. Now if you’re struggling in a class, perhaps you can meet with teachers at office hours. But they don’t have the mentors anymore.”
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