Col­lege costs sad­dle many stu­dents with large debts; that needs to change

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY DAN SCH­NUR Spe­cial to The Sacra­mento Bee

Note to read­ers: Each week through Novem­ber 2019, a se­lec­tion of our 101 Cal­i­for­nia In­flu­encers answers a ques­tion that is crit­i­cal to Cal­i­for­nia’s fu­ture. Top­ics in­clude ed­u­ca­tion, health­care, en­vi­ron­ment, hous­ing and eco­nomic growth.

Stay in the know: Go to www.fres­­flu­encers to sign up for the Cal­i­for­nia In­flu­encers news­let­ter – and tell us what you think. In the movies, col­lege is about foot­ball games and fra­ter­nity par­ties, all-nighters in the li­brary and es­presso-fu­eled bull ses­sions about the mean­ing of life. But in the real world, higher ed­u­ca­tion is much less glam­orous.

For many stu­dents, it means sched­ul­ing their classes around full-time jobs. For oth­ers, it can mean food in­sta­bil­ity and home­less­ness. And those who do earn a diploma are also likely to take with them an in­voice for tens of thou­sands of dol­lars in stu­dent debt.

“The big­gest bar­ri­ers to en­rolling in col­lege are cost and the need to work full-time,” said Cal­i­for­nia Com­mu­nity Col­lege Chan­cel­lor Eloy Oak­ley, one of sev­eral of the Cal­i­for­nia ed­u­ca­tion in­flu­encers who called for the state to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease stu­dent fi­nan­cial aid. “Get­ting col­lege af­ford­abil­ity right is a chal­lenge Cal­i­for­nia must ad­dress to im­prove so­cial and eco­nomic mo­bil­ity for all who live here.”

Cal­i­for­nia Char­ter Schools As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Myrna Cas­tre­jon was less diplo­matic.

“At a mo­ment when we have his­tor­i­cally high num­bers of un­der­served stu­dents fill­ing the hall­ways of Cal­i­for­nia’s col­leges, it is down­right im­moral that we are sad­dling them with un

sus­tain­able stu­dent debt,” she said.

Chil­dren Now Pres­i­dent Ted Lem­pert of­fered the most dra­matic pro­posal for en­hanced fi­nan­cial sup­port, by es­sen­tially abol­ish­ing tu­ition at the state’s pub­lic col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.

“The Cal­i­for­nia Leg­is­la­ture just ap­proved a $214.8 bil­lion state bud­get. It would take just 5 per­cent of that bud­get to com­pletely elim­i­nate tu­ition and fees at the UC, CSU and com­mu­nity col­leges,” said Lem­pert. “Need-based fi­nan­cial aid could then be di­rected to non-tu­ition costs, such as hous­ing, food, and trans­porta­tion, which are typically un­ac­counted for in most… fi­nan­cial aid pro­grams.” Linda Dar­ling-Ham­mond, pres­i­dent of the Cal­i­for­nia State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, ad­vo­cated for in­creased aid as an in­cen­tive to en­cour­age stu­dents to­ward spe­cific types of ca­reers, cit­ing Gov. Gavin New­som’s plan to pro­vide grants for stu­dents will­ing to teach in high-need fields such as spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion, sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy and bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion.

“This won’t solve the short­age com­pletely – more needs to be done to help strug­gling schools and dis­tricts at­tract and re­tain teach­ers,” Dar­lingHam­mond said. “But by rec­og­niz­ing that col­lege debt load is a bar­rier to en­ter­ing pub­lic ser­vice, Gov­er­nor New­som made an im­por­tant first step.”

Demo­cratic strate­gist Roger Salazar pointed to the in­creased need among stu­dents who at­tend the state’s pri­vate schools.

“With Cal­i­for­nia’s UC/ CSU sys­tem over ca­pac­ity, Cal­i­for­nia’s stu­dents are more and more likely to (choose) an in­de­pen­dent col­lege or uni­ver­sity,” Salazar said. “All Cal­i­for­nia stu­dents de­serve the equiv­a­lent amount of sup­port, ir­re­spec­tive of whether they at­tend a pub­lic or pri­vate uni­ver­sity.”

Col­lege Fu­tures Foundation Pres­i­dent Mon­ica Lozano also stressed the im­por­tance of cost sta­bil­ity, es­pe­cially for stu­dents from eco­nom­i­cally chal­lenged fam­i­lies.

“In good eco­nomic times, we see in­creases in state ap­pro­pri­a­tions and tu­ition freezes. In bad times, bud­gets are bal­anced by in­creas­ing tu­ition while slash­ing re­sources and ser­vices,” said Lozano, who rec­om­mended the adop­tion of mul­ti­year higher ed­u­ca­tion bud­gets and tu­ition lev­els. “We ex­pect fam­i­lies to set bud­gets, save money, and plan for the fu­ture. Yet Cal­i­for­nia doesn’t have a re­al­is­tic, long-term fi­nance plan for higher ed­u­ca­tion, and our low­est-in­come fam­i­lies bear the con­se­quences.”

Other in­flu­encers out­lined pos­si­ble re­forms that would re­duce higher ed­u­ca­tion costs.

“We need to fo­cus on real re­forms to lower the cost of ed­u­ca­tion; we can’t sub­si­dize our way out of this prob­lem,” said state Sen. Ling Ling Chang (R-Di­a­mond Bar). “We can be­gin by find­ing ways to re­duce the over­head at uni­ver­si­ties. At many col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, ad­min­is­tra­tion has grown much faster than stu­dent en­roll­ment… as a re­sult the cost of at­tend­ing col­lege has grown in price way past the rate of inflation.”

Chris­tine Robert­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the San Luis Coastal Ed­u­ca­tion Foundation, called for the use of tech­nol­o­gy­based learn­ing to com­ple­ment the tra­di­tional class­room-based ap­proach.

“By reimag­in­ing our ed­u­ca­tional mod­els to in­clude tech­nol­ogy-en­abled flex­i­ble learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments, we in­crease ac­cess and de­crease cost,” she said. “Aug­ment­ing cam­pus­base in­struc­tion with vir­tual class­rooms can ex­pand ac­cess and re­duce cost. Pairing tra­di­tional in­struc­tion with per­son­al­ized and self-paced learn­ing plat­forms can en­hance stu­dent choice and ac­cel­er­ate learn­ing.”

Kim Belshe, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for First 5 LA, pro­vided a nec­es­sary re­minder that higher ed­u­ca­tion costs must be viewed in a broader con­text.

“The first thing I’d do is be hon­est with Cal­i­for­ni­ans about the real costs and con­se­quences of our chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion ex­pe­ri­ence – from cra­dle to ca­reer,” Belshe said. “We have to shift our think­ing re­gard­ing when learn­ing be­gins for chil­dren and start ear­lier so kids fin­ish strong and are pre­pared to com­pete for good-pay­ing jobs in a dy­namic econ­omy.”

JEFF CHIU AP file photo

Stu­dents march un­der Sather Gate in Berke­ley dur­ing a protest against tu­ition in­creases at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia in 2014.

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