Tuesday, March 23, 2010

California must invest in its colleges

My objective seemed simple enough: enroll in a California State University and earn a Master's degree. But what should have been a straightforward quest has instead been fraught with frustration and anxiety.

A complex online application process failed to disclose, up front, what documentation I would need in order to complete the form. I had to advance through multiple screens abruptly demanding information. If I left an answer blank or my answer made no sense, I was subjected to screen after screen of do-overs, highlighted in glaring red.

In the end, my effort was pointless because the cost of tuition is so far out of reach ... only, somehow, the Web site failed to make this clear until after I'd submitted a nonrefundable application fee.

Due to a limited amount of state support and a large number of students, the program that I wished to apply to was not admitting students into its state-supported program for Fall 2010. Instead, the only option available is a so-called "special session," which is not supported financially by the state of California.

The fees are "highly competitive" (I prefer the term "draconian") at $474 per unit.

So, for now, I've decided to give my business to a community college. It charges $26 per unit and I can take online courses in my field of study.

Maybe it won't be as prestigious as a master's degree but I believe these community college courses will be of benefit for the information that they provide me.

I think it bodes ill, however, for the state of California if it prices higher education so far out of reach. Some jobs require the completion of a master's degree: a librarian, for example. Will California have to do without librarians when those in the work force retire?

California must invest in higher education that is accessible to all, or else must suffer the consequence of failing to prepare its citizens to serve in positions that it needs. But instead, current events demonstrate a different trend.

The legislative analyst's office for the state of California states that Governor's Schwarzenegger's proposed investment of $11.5 billion in general fund support assumes that UC and CSU systems will enact fee increases and that access to financial aid will be reduced and restricted.

Discussing my problem with a professional in my field of study, she told me she had earned her master's degree in another state. The question then occurred to me: if people have to leave the state in order to attend colleges, what will entice them back to California to benefit our society?

Consider that during the course of study, these students may put down roots. You cannot assume that they will invariably live singly, unattached, in dorms. They may be in partnered relationships and raising families of their own.

How much easier and more convenient for themselves and for their families to seek employment close to the area that they have come to view as home: where their partner or spouse may go to work and their children may attend school.

Of course, for those blessed few who come from wealthy families, cost will not be an issue. They can go full-time to school in California or anywhere else.

But the rest of us will have to ask ourselves how our college education will be paid for. We'll have to jockey for available scholarships or take out exorbitant loans that leave us in debt for years after we've completed our course of study.

We may have to leave California and hope that other states place a wiser priority upon funding higher education.

Or we may take community college courses and hope that on-the-job experience helps offset the lack of a degree or hope that circumstances permit us to pursue a degree later on in life.

In any case, California will reap the consequences of the priority it fails to place on making higher education affordable. It will only serve us right.

Published March 23, 2010 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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