Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In a World of Openness, Doors to Higher Ed Close

Dear Californians,

The future of your state is currently being dictated through the devastating budget cuts to higher education.  The writing has been on the wall and administrative decisions have been in the works for well over a year now but now we're starting to see the tangible effects of these cuts.

Back in October 2009, I shared a post titled, "I Want to Learn. Please Let Me In, California," that shared a personal story about my father's plight from poverty to earning a PhD.  If you were to ask him what made this "dream" a reality, he would tell you it was California's rich opportunities for open access to education.  As I shared in that post, my father traveled across our nation to earn his AA at Porterville Community College before he moved on to earn both a BS and a Master's degree at San Jose State and then proceed to Iowa State for his PhD in Chemistry. 

That was the 1960s.  This is the 21st century.  What has changed?  Well, ironically, today we relish in a society of open learning opportunities provided to us through the internet's access to content.  As an example, Einstein's notebooks may be searched and viewed in high resolution reproductions by anyone with an internet connection.  MIT's Open CourseWare shares courses with the world for free -- go learn, today.  In 2008, Pew Foundation shared that more than half of Americans had accessed the internet wirelessly and they predicted that by 2020 most people on earth will be using a mobile device as their PRIMARY connection to the Internet.  Accessing content is not an issue.  Educating our citizens is. 

The cuts to education in California are unprecedented (and I write specifically about California because I am a Californian and I am deeply invested in the future of this state as a parent and an educator, while I humbly recognize the severity of the cuts to the rest of our nation as well).   The San Jose Mercury News reported that more Californian youths are applying out of state in an effort to pave a future in higher education for them.  They can read the writing on the wall.  In February, California Community College Chancellor, Jack Walsh, verified that the enrollment in our great system of 112 community colleges has dropped by 21,000 this year.  I promise you this is not due to lack of student demand. Students continue to try to add into classes that are overly full and professors continue to do their best to accommodate those demands without jeopardizing the pedagogy of their classes, which is always directly tied to class size.  The California Community College system is the largest higher educational system in the world, providing access to college to 2.9 million students...and dwindling.  Next year, CCCs will close their doors to 200,000 more students.   

How's it going in the CSU system?  Not so pretty there either.  The system, comprised of 23 campuses across our beautiful state, will slice out 40,000 students over the next two years.  Before these drastic cuts began, the Public Policy Institute of California estimated that our state would suffer a deficit of one million college graduates by 2025.  By this year, it is anticipated that 41% of jobs in CA will require a college degree (undergraduate) but only 35% of Californians will have one.  Again, this statistic was written prior to to current mess we're in.  I have yet to see the refreshed projections of this deficit since the most recent state cuts to higher education.

In recent months, I've met with close personal friends who have enthusiastically shared new lifetime learning goals with me.  "I've decided to go back to school and get a degree in ...!"  I have responded with an encouraging smile and felt my heart break on the inside as I've pondered the realities ahead of anyone in California who has dreams of pursuing an affordable college education here within the state.  And I've reflected solemnly on the future education of my own children, as well.

And now for some final reflections about K-12.  California ranks 47th in state funding for K-12.  According to, the state’s K-12 budget for 2009-10 is $66.7 billion, down from $71.2 billion just two years ago.  Last year, the class sizes at my own childrens' school were increased to 30 students: 1 teacher.  My childrens' classrooms are crowded and hot and none of the standards, of course, were modified as these class sizes were increased.  I empathize with teachers and I am direly concerned for the educational well being of my own kids.  My son has been denied speech therapy because his test scores are not below average.  There is no attempt to integrate any form of 21st century skills into the curriculum and making this suggestion seems futile in a context as detrimental as this.  Fourth graders are encouraged to leverage the internet to do research, but not taught how to validate any of the content they find.  We are not educating our children for life in this digital, content rich society in which they must live their lives.

As Curtis Bonk wrote, "The World is Open," but until our state budget can effectively support the educational needs of our future citizens, our colleges continue to close doors.

Please support public education.

Save the CSU:
Foundation for California Community Colleges:

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