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

‘Defenseless’ from bullying at Calistoga schools

At JFActivist, moderator Frankie Mastrangelo shares information about bullying from the Stevens Johnson Syndrome Foundation. She invites readers to comment, asking: “Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt any kind of physical or mental abuse from someone and felt the need to defend yourself from it? Did you ever feel defenseless to something outside your control?”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Animal predators prowl neighborhoods

Cover image: Dark’s Tale by Deborah Grabien
Few sounds are more chilling to me than the shrill yips and howls of coyotes. Whenever I hear these eerie sounds, my immediate concern is to bring my cat Elizabeth inside.

In each Lake County community that we have called our home, we have always been conscious of the surrounding areas of woodland. Deer, turkeys and rabbits wander through our neighborhoods and it seems entirely credible that predators lurk unseen.

From time to time, people report sightings of coyotes or mountain lions.

Our cat Elizabeth is a skilled negotiator in being allowed to spend more time out-of-doors: by vocalizing back when I call to her or by making periodic appearances, she reassures her humans that all is well. But whenever we hear coyotes, she must come inside the house.

Reading "Dark's Tale" by Deborah Grabien, I could almost hear coyotes' howls and could see them stalking cats and other animals in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

"Dark's Tale" tells the story of a former house cat abandoned in Golden Gate Park. She finds herself in a complex new world that is subject to changes in season and to rules that keep the peace among species inhabiting the park. Every animal knows its place and survivors earn an unquestioned respect.

The coyotes' arrival threatens this balance; they don't merely kill to eat, but to take down potential competitors. Dark and her friends find themselves under siege from this new danger.

Humans are viewed according to their potential as allies or as a threat. One of the most poignant aspects of this book is that many humans want to protect the cats and other animals from the coyotes but their complaints to city government go unheard.

"Dark's Tale" skillfully brings to life the various complex relationships between animals in Golden Gate Park. It presents a very believable portrayal of the danger imposed by a predator that will not respect the natural balance.

Grabien sought to draw attention to a real-life threat posed by coyotes in Golden Gate Park. She and her husband feed stray and feral cats with the Trap-Neuter-Release cat rescue program. The character Dark is modeled after one of the cats that Grabien and her husband fed.

The coyotes' arrival, in 2006, was outside the natural rhythm that had existed in Golden Gate Park and their impact was felt immediately.

Foxes -- formerly the park's top predator -- began to disappear. Skunks and birds went in hiding. Possums vanished and without them, nothing controlled wasps' nests. "Then one night, we drove up to feed Dark and her new buddy, an old, smart feral named Ivy. We were just in time to see a young coyote charging straight at them."

As of Grabien's writing the book, there were still coyotes in the park:

"The TNR group has managed to catch and relocate many of the park cats to a wonderful shelter in the California hills. More skunks around, but they're cautious and we haven't seen a possum or a fox for over a year now.

"The park is a different place than it was the first night we met Dark."

I was reassured to learn from Grabien that the real-life Dark is one of several cats that were successfully transplanted to the Agee shelter for feral and abandoned cats.

Ivy, too, did not meet his end in the jaws of a coyote; he died in the park at 18 years of age.

I could relate to the animals' plight depicted in Grabien's book, even though rural Lake County is a very different place from Golden Gate Park.

Lake County neighborhoods are so much nearer to the wilderness that coyotes occupy; whereas coyotes' arrival in Golden Gate Park threatened the established order, it could be argued that in Lake County, we humans are the interlopers here. And somehow we must co-exist with predators while protecting the animals in our care.

Published March 16, 2010 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Library school: Researching city colleges

I spent some time on the computer last night, looking up city college programs accredited by the American Library Association. Paying $20 per unit seems much more reasonable to me than nearly $500 per unit. Particularly since I can hardly expect to dive into the jobs that require a Master's degree.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

MLS degree: Tuition even higher than expected

I had a setback with applying to San Jose State University. The college is only offering what it calls the "special" sessions, unpaid for by the college. The tuition is nearly $500 per unit instead of $217. So enrolling in a Master's program for Fall 2010 turned out to be unfeasible.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Small handful of writers I can count on

There is a small handful of writers, perhaps two or three, whom I can count on to write to the Clear Lake Observer American in response to something that ran on its opinion page. So all is not totally an isolated endeavor, although it feels as-such. I try to promote more dialogue, believing as I do that the editorial and/or opinion pages should be the most vibrant in the newspaper.