Assembly Committee on Higher Education Discusses College Affordability

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Anumita Kaur

The Assembly Committee on Higher Education hosted an oversight hearing to discuss the effect of affordability on access and success in higher education at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Loma Pelona Center Monday, Oct. 7.

Three panels discussed one topic each: the strengths and weaknesses of California’s affordability structure, student financial aid distribution at public colleges and universities, and student perspectives on the issues.

UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang welcomed the committee, panelists, and audience to the hearing. According to Yang, the California Master Plan for Higher Education originally aimed to provide universal access to higher education when it was created in 1960.

“This issue of college affordability and how it impacts access and success in California colleges and universities is an important and timely topic for our students and for their families,” said Yang.

During the first panel, David Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, explained why change is needed in California’s affordability structure and offered a plan to meet the need for change.

“The demand for higher education currently exceeds the supply,” Longanecker said. “You need to meet that supply both for the economic and social needs of the state.”

Longanecker also said that California’s funding for colleges and universities is based on an unsustainable growth model, one that essentially costs more over time. Also considering that government funds for education are being displaced and that California is not as wealthy as when the 1960 Master Plan was created, Loganecker suggested a new course of action.

His plan stated that five factors should contribute to the finance of education. First, the majority should come from the students themselves.

“We do have an alternative revenue source,” Longanecker said. “The student is the one who is going to benefit most significantly from this [education], and so one can say they can share the cost.”

He continued to explain that this should then be followed by a reasonable amount from students’ families. The state of California, the educational institution, and federal government funds like Pell Grants should then contribute the rest. The institution would be expected to either keep costs down or find a way to provide funding for students in need. His model followed those of Oregon and Minnesota.

The second panel discussed the state of financial aid in public universities and colleges.

Brad Hardison, the Director of Financial Aid at Santa Barbara City College, pointed out that state grants, such as Cal Grant, have decreased dramatically in amounts awarded. He called for an increase in Cal Grant B award amounts.

“The Cal Grant B has now shrunk to a quarter of its original value; it has not kept up with inflation,” Hardison said.

However, despite the shrinking grant amounts provided by the state, Dean Kulju, director of Financial Aid Services and Programs in the California State University Office of the Chancellor, pointed out that University of California students borrow an average of $18,779, an amount significantly lower than the national average.

The third and final panel consisted of students sharing their experiences and perspective on the issue of affordability, access, and success.

UCSB External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Alexandria Choate encouraged committee members to think of retention and accessibility for students in the UC system, as well as both short-term and long-term solutions.

“The lack of funding for student services has installed yet another barrier for students here at the university,” Choate said. “Student services are a necessary component here at the university and enhance the success of a student. Without these services functioning at full capacity, retention is harder to maintain.”

According to Choate, the state is also placing more funds into the prison system rather than into education.

“Individuals with less education are more likely to end up in prison than those with an education,” she said. “I don’t see how it’s okay to perpetuate the criminalization of our state’s youth while defunding their education.”

During time for public comments, UCSB Associated Students President Jonathan Abboud reminded the committee, panelists, and audience of the importance of the UC’s third pillar of quality.

“As we lose money, we lose money to pay for faculty who can teach us,” said Abboud. “Academics is why we come here, it’s why we come here to learn.”

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