Paying for College

California College Crisis

It seems as though every day there's a new headline on the Web, in the newspaper, or on TV about the California state budget crisis. Since this is a blog about higher education, let's take a look at what that crisis means for some of California's colleges.

There will be myriad news stories about the effect of the budget shortfall across the board, but two have caught my eye. The first concerns the public school (non-college) system:

Budget crisis forces deep cuts at California schools

RICHMOND, Calif. (AP) - California's historic budget crisis threatens to devastate a public education system that was once considered a national model but now ranks near the bottom in school funding and academic achievement.

Deep budget cuts are forcing California school districts to lay off thousands of teachers, expand class sizes, close schools, eliminate bus service, cancel summer school programs, and possibly shorten the academic year.

Without a strong economic recovery, which few experts predict, the reduced school funding could last for years, shortchanging millions of students, driving away residents and businesses, and darkening California's economic future . . .

This is indeed a dire situation that will have long-term negative effects not only on the school system itself, but also on the educational lives of those students (and families) involved in it. K-12 education is a crucial foundation in our lives. A crumbling system like this one cannot hope to send the most possible graduates on to college with the proper background in a global set of disciplines.

What then are the effects of the California budget on higher education? Here's that second headline:

City College seeks sponsors to save courses

Chancellor Don Griffin at City College of San Francisco suggests using it to rescue an endangered community college class. Contribute and the class will be named for you.

About 800 classes will be canceled at City College during the next school year thanks to the state's budget crisis. State lawmakers plan to slash at least 9 percent - a total of $630 million - from the entire California community college system this year and next.

Hundreds of thousands of students could be locked out of college as a result, including some of the neediest Californians who depend on state subsidies for books, travel and food that make attending school possible for them. In addition to the lost courses, such subsidies will be cut way back.

So Griffin is getting creative.

"If you want to pay for one class at City College, it's $6,000," he told The Chronicle. "And if you designate it for that class, we'll make sure the class is reinstated, and we'll put your name on it."

Each class at the college serves about 30 students, three times a week for a 17 1/2-week semester.

Griffin said it would be money well spent.

"The community college system will lead the way out of the recession," he said, because the schools are so strongly focused on preparing students for the workforce . . .

Imagine: "The Dave Berry Course in Stochastic Differential Equations"! Has a nice ring to it, no?

Pretty soon, California's state colleges and universities will be running Jerry Lewis-like telethons to stay in business. I can see it now:

Pitchman #1: Bill, I'm so excited. For the next 30 minutes, we have a matching-grant offer from a donor in Bakersfield. So, those of you out there, listen up! For the next half hour, all your contributions up to and including ten thousand dollars will be matched by this generous benefactor. So call NOW!

Pitchman #2: That's right, Tom. Behind me, here, you can here the Big Bell ringing every time we have a pledge. And don't forget, people. For pledging just a hundred dollars a month for the next four years, you can have your choice of one of three premiums. We're offering an autographed picture of Governor Schwarzenegger as he appeared in True Lies, a 24-inch pennant from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, or a semester course at City College of San Francisco named in your honor! C'mon, everyone. Ring that bell!

Sound far fetched? Never underestimate the power of government to get into your wallets. Round and round it goes. Where it will end, nobody knows. Last one out of California, please turn off the lights.

Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.