Student Body Presidents: Budget Cuts Threaten Dream of a Higher Education
By Eming Piansay
New America Media
With public universities in California being targeted for drastic budget cuts, college-bound students are bracing for a now uncertain future. How many students will be able to secure financial aid? Will universities be offering scholarships and fellowships to low-income students? Which courses and departments will be cut out of the curriculum? Will tuition fees at public universities and community colleges be hiked once again?
Those questions are weighing heavy on the minds of the student body presidents interviewed for this report, all of whom agreed that the biggest concern facing them and their classmates is how the financial crisis is going to damage their ability to obtain a college degree. In fact, the student presidents said that for many of their peers, a college degree is seen as the “golden ticket” -- the only thing guaranteeing their survival in a suddenly uncertain world.
“I see education being prominent in most students’ future,” said Raymok Ketema, 17, student body president at Berkeley High School. “Because now they’re starting to realize, ‘Okay, the economy isn’t doing so good. I see my parents losing their jobs. It’s hard. I need to go to school so I can do something with my life.’”
Ketema, whose family migrated from Eritrea, has applied to approximately 10 colleges, most of them in California. She hopes to attend law school in the future. But big dreams, these days, carry an expensive price tag for college-bound young people.
“It is getting so expensive,” said Ketema. “Financial aid is hard to receive. Really, whatever school [is] giving me the most money is the one I’m going to go to.”
Compounding matters, they said, is the fact that many students can no longer count on getting financial support from their parents.
Anastasia Sloan, 18, student body president at Pinole Valley High, hopes to one day go to college at University of California, Berkeley. The eldest of four siblings, Sloan said that as long as she can remember, her father has been able to maintain financial stability for the family.
Now that she is gearing up for college, however, Sloan’s parents have made it clear to her and her siblings that they will need to find their own sources of income to pay for their college education -- an expense Sloan’s parents just can’t afford, despite the fact that both are employed.
“They will guide us [to college] best they can, but financially, we would be on our own,” said Sloan.
Even those students whose parents are on solid ground financially, like Paige Yeider, 17, are being forced to think of alternative ways of paying for their college education. “[My parents] are still paying the mortgage. With my dad switching jobs in the past couple years, it has created a little bit of instability in the house,” said Yeider, the student body president at Skyline High School in Oakland.
“Compared to other people, I have a better situation,” continued Yeider. “But it does scare me a little bit, because I know that [in order] to go to college I’m going to have to take out a lot of loans. I’m going to be in debt … [for] thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Because of the huge financial requirements looming over those seeking a university education, many are turning to the community college system as an option.
“There are definitely people who are [choosing to go] to community college first for two years. It’s a lot cheaper to go there and then transfer,” said Natasha Kafai, 17, the student body president at Woodside High School.
Kafai is personally setting her sites on four-year universities, although those hopes come with a caveat. “I’m going for these really expensive schools, not necessarily because I can afford them, but [because] I’m really hoping that they’ll be able to give me financial aid.”
Faced with cutbacks at the college level, these high school seniors have also seen the impact of budget cuts unfold in their own classrooms, firsthand.
“I started off this year with 40 students in my class,“ said Selene Calderon, 17, student body president at Richmond High School. Even the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) college-prep courses, said Calderon, has jumped. “Those classes are designed to only teach 20 or so students at a time. There weren’t enough books at times.”
Those increasing class sizes and under-funded schools, suggested Calderon, all contribute to lower student achievement and a demoralized teacher workforce, which in turn results in students being unprepared for a successful college career – yet another roadblock for college-bound students.
With the ball now in the government’s court, some students, like Anastasia Sloan, believe that if nothing else, lawmakers should realize that public education is the starting point for the young people who will be filling their legislative shoes in the future.
“Education is the key to producing lawmakers who will better the [economy],” said Sloan. ”It starts off with learning.”
Eming Piansay writes for New America Media. This piece originally appeared on New America Media.