Friday, November 20, 2009

Education--a right and a responsibility

Let me first say that I am entirely biased. I am a university professor. I have spent A LOT of time in classrooms, as a student and now as a teacher. I obviously believe in education, formal education, as a good and as a goal that everyone should strive for.

Let me also say that I know of many successful people who did not attend college or university--people in my own family who, for a variety of reasons, some chosen and some not, never attended a four-year institution of higher learning. So I'm certainly not saying that I believe everyone must attend college and that a university diploma is the sign of success or intelligence.

But I do believe that higher education should be made available for all people--it should be a possibility that people can feel they can strive for and achieve, whether intellectually or financially.

And it is this last part that has me worried. Especially at my alma mater, the University of California at Santa Barbara. Because like all other UC campuses, its students are now subject to a 32% tuition increase--in real money it means students next year will be paying over $10,000 a year for a public school education. It is one of the largest tuition increases the UC regents have ever made in a single year. Students next year will pay 3x in tuition what students paid a decade ago and 6x what I and my fellow students were paying in the early 1990s.

I grew up in a pretty middle-class family--my parents were typical immigrants in the sense of their frugality and their belief that they should work hard for the betterment of the next generation. While I had dreams of going to a private school, I knew that the reality of our financial situation meant that a UC or Cal State education would be my only real option. And I was really fine with that because I knew that California had one of the best public school systems in the nation, if not the world. And I knew that I could work summers and during breaks to save money for my tuition or at least for incidentals (like food and rent) that my parents may not be able to afford. So I graduated from college debt free, which allowed me to think about pursuing PhD work because I didn't have the pressure of getting a high paying job straight out of school to pay off my debts and then the worry about incurring more debts in grad school (for the record, I am still paying off my grad student loans).

I mention all of this because I worry especially about kids who resemble my own profile--kids of immigrant parents whose one good option--a UC school--seems to be slipping past them. Or kids who will feel an additional pressure to go into majors that will hopefully provide a pipeline into high paying/lucrative jobs, but these may not be career options or even educational options they want to pursue--they may want to be English majors or Art History majors but are being pressured to go into science and math and technology driven majors in the hopes of securing a high paying job to pay back the many loans they have incurred. Or really bright students may decide that studying abroad or thinking about a PhD just isn't in their future. Or worst of all, there will be kids who simply won't be able to go to college because they just can't afford it.

Which means that the diversity--in terms of race but most especially in terms of class will become diminished in the UC system. It means that the gap between those who have and those who have not will grow. It means that we are saying education--a college education--is reserved for an elite who can afford it.

I don't have any cheerful words to end this post with. I wish I did. I only know that we have to do something--that this education is both a right and a responsibility--that everyone has the right to pursue a higher ed degree and that we have a responsibility to make that happen for all students. How to make this happen? I don't know. But we owe it to ourselves and our future to figure this out, NOW.


Joel Arken said...

As a fresh off the high school boat college student, I thought the government was going to help the disadvantaged more than they are. I thought that families with mounds of bad credit or debt would be helped by the government as we are now living in the age of opportunity for all (maybe that is embellished and imagined rhetoric, but it stands the same), but now I'm told that I'm here, I'm stuck here. We're stuck with debt.

What can we do about it as students? My school's answer is protest, but that's more annoying and impractical in the long run than helpful. It spreads awareness, and change comes from all directions, but protest here often becomes unfocused and more idealistic than realistic, and that's probably the issue.

Higher education is a privilege, but not one for the privileged class. I thought the UC system was making strides at putting the students of lower socioeconomic status into colleges, even without the quotas. Is this not true?

Joey LaBadia said...

The school I attend is New School University. It is a very liberal school and is known for the number of students from different countries. However, I notice that most students from U.S. are white and outnumber blacks and Hispanic by a wide margin. I agree with what you said about looking for those majors that lead to high paying jobs. I am a senior and terrified of what will happen after I graduate since I did not major in something that will lead to high paying job right away. But this school should be more available to everyone. I know no one told black and Hispanic students not to apply here, but the price of this school is very high and should accomodate for not just wealthy kids.

Amanda and SuperAmanda™ said...

Let me be the first to agree with you and say that yes, you are entirely biased. How about if you serious cutting your salary by 32%? Or taking a few furlough days like my best friend who is a UC employee has to? My friend also saw her salary cut by 4% as well, even after being vested.
Meanwhile Chancellor Linda Katehi at UC Davis who came here as an immigrant and is cleaning up to the tune of a grotesquely over paid salary of nearly half a million dollars a year and will surely find an excuse to give her and her cronies a raise again as soon as possible, so it really is not THAT skewed aganist the immigrant is it?

Jennifer said...

Joel and Joey,
Thanks for your comments--you are both in the thick of this as current college students. Protests can work--although given what I understand is the situation in the financial state of California right now, perhaps it's beyond that point. And Joey, your point about racial diversity and some private colleges/universities or public universities in more homogenous areas not having very racially diverse populations is something we should be paying attention to as well.

One thing I've been thinking about for students in public universities is to be proactive and write to their local newspapers and state representatives about how their public school education is valuable to them and what they can give back to the state.

Finally, Amanda and SuperAmanda,
I think you may have found your way to this blog via "Love Isn't Enough" and my recent guest post there. I do appreciate new readers/commenters, but I want to point you to the "Rules while visiting this Blog" on the right sidebar. Unlike LIE, I moderate my comments fairly strictly--which means if I think that someone is posting/comments simply for the sake of being antagonistic rather than contributing to a positive discussion/dialogue or if someone is doing lengthy multiple-posts that seem to be rants rather than points of conversation, I will reject those comments.

I say this because I felt that the tone of your comment seemed un-necessarily antagonistic--and I'm honestly not sure what to make of your comment. You seem upset with me, as a university professor, and suggest that I take a furlough, but of course you don't know anything about my current situation and whether I have taken furloughs/pay cuts (for the record, I have--as have others in my state school system)--and you seem to suggest that because Linda Katehi at UC Davis is an immigrant and has a high salary that we should not be concerned with immigrant families having affordable access to higher education. Perhaps this is not what you mean to say, but I can't quite figure out why else you are making the point of this one particular chancellor being an immigrant.

At any rate, if you would like to engage in a real discussion with any of the ideas on this blog or with any of the ideas by the other commenters, than by all means, please leave a comment. But I hope any future comments will be respectful in tone rather than antagonistic and that you make your points a bit more clearly in terms of making points that are engaging in the topic of the post.

European American Admin said...

Hi Jennifer,
I get very fired up which is part of the IWW/VALB spirit I come from. Actually I found this blog long before LIE which I found through Rebecca Walker's wonderful open minded blog. My friends and I are starting our own anti-racism forum aimed at exploring Euro-American/white anti-racism and it will allow more fiery discourse. I will tone it down on your respective sites, ok?

Without any antagonizing intended , I'm asking would you ever consider joining hands and protesting with students and possibly putting your position in jeopardy? And I'm curious to know what new information, apart from a call to arms, that you feel you can offer as a Uni Prof. to those of us who are angered about the fee hikes?

-Super Amanda

Jennifer said...

Thanks for coming by again. I'm hoping that if you do become a regular commenter, could you please use one consistent handle? I have been burned by trolls using multiple handles on this site, and I'd prefer transparency for myself and for other regular commenters.

I would also like to offer some pushback for you, since you have said you are a regular reader of Mixed Race America. I'm wondering why this particular issue had you wanting to comment and to ask me about my own committment as an educator and activist, when I think the intention of my post wasn't to offer a specific idea--but to invite others to share their own input and feelings about this situation.

I understand that you didn't mean to be antagonistic, but in persisting on turning the focus of this post to me as a professor and my level of committment--without knowing anything about my and my past history, what I did at a student at UCSB or a graduate student at BU or as a lecturer at Mount Holyoke, or in my current position at Southern U, it seems a bit presumptuous and, again, takes the focus off of the current situation in the UC system--of which I am not a part--I'm an alum.

If you have some constructive feedback and suggestions about what I, as an alum and current professor at another public university, can do, I'm all ears--and if you have suggestions about what current students around the country and especially within the UC system can do, I'm sure that we are all eager to learn how we can speak truth to power and make our voices heard and bring attention to this situation and, more importantly, to keep the costs of higher education accessible and affordable for us all.

Good luck with your own blog--we all need anti-racist allies and activists in all corners of the world. And rather than thinking of my site as lacking "fire" I think I'd like to see it as a safe haven where people can agree to disagree using civil discourse.