December 03, 2010

Seeking Higher Education: A Peek Behind the Scenes

new sallyBy Sally Raskoff

Would you agree that education is an institution in trouble? Because of the current national and global economic issues, educational institutions are struggling with financial woes that include budget cuts and pressure to increase fees and tuition. Most public colleges have cut their offerings repeatedly since 2007. Many college and university systems are increasing fees and tuition and are juggling an ever increasing pool of applicants.

This fall at my community college, we turned away more students than we were able to enroll. In previous years, we would have been able to add classes to accommodate the demand, but budget constraints prevented us from doing that this year. Recently, a study lambasted community colleges for their students’ lack of program completion. While such rates are important to consider, they are not the only measure of success in such a complex institution. Today I attended a meeting at which we decided how to make further cuts to our winter program. People might assume that such decisions are made quickly and without much thought. However, this was the third meeting that lasted over two hours and in which I witnessed deep, detailed discussion of the budget issues and criteria used in making such difficult decisions. The effect of these difficult imagedecisions on students was central to our discussions.

Our mission is to educate students with programs in basic skills, general education transfer, and career education. The state budget that have filtered down to us have repeatedly forced us to cut classes offered. Our budget is based on how many students we have and the only way to meet the budget is to reduce the number of classes offered so that we can have fewer students, and thus can balance our budget. 

At this point, we had already cut all other funds down to the bone and frozen all staff hiring. As a result, we find ourselves unable to refill the ink in all of our printers. Because we have half of the maintenance staff that our buildings need, we either clean the classrooms ourselves or get swept up in the massive amounts of trash that are generated by the thousands of students that move through the building each day.

There are other issues that affect community college student completion rates, beyond budget cuts too. As I write this in my office, I hear a student out in the hallway on the phone with her ex-partner “discussing” with him why he doesn’t participate in parenting their child and expressing her frustration at his absence in their lives. This morning I spoke with a cousin of a student who has legal system obligations that have caused her to be absent. Last semester, at least two of my students were homeless, and one of them finished the course image while the other one left mid-semester for destinations unknown. I have a few other students who seem to need to enter a rehab facility soon.

Max Weber's concept of verstehen can help us understand some of the challenges people seeking higher education are facing. Weber argued that we must immerse ourselves in a setting to understand what goes on there. To fully understand an organization and its outcomes, one must realize that people exist there and life is indeed full of complex interactions, goals, and contributions.

Verstehen, should remind researchers that community college students face many obstacles to their educational achievement and thus budget cuts affect them more than they may affect students at four-year institutions. Measuring success and retention rates based on semester- to -semester continuity does not acknowledge that our students come to school and then may have to leave to take care of various issues , including family responsibilities, legal and economic issues, or developing maturity. Many students who leave one semester come back within a year or two or three; others may go to some other college or university. I have had many students check in with me years after they had a class with me and their educational paths are varied as their fingerprints.

Without verstehen, researchers might not realize that a singular measure like retention or completion rates do not capture the reality of such a diverse institution tasked with such a complex set of goals. I’m concerned about the students who have been pushed out of the educational system. Because we have cut our course offerings and give registration priority to those who have accumulated the most credits, the students who have been unable to register are those who are just getting started. If you’re reading this for a class, consider yourself fortunate that you could register for the class! Consider all of the people who wanted to be students who could not because we are cutting education to balance our yearly state budgets. Consider what they might be doing instead of getting an education. Consider the impact this will have on the state when an entire generation of students have not been able to get the education they needed and desired.

With verstehen, we just might see all of these issues and realize that to get out of our economic problems, we cannot just focus on the economy and continue to privilege corporations over people. An educated populace would be better prepared to contribute to society through work and civic engagement and preserve our democratic ideals. What do we have without education?


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I agree that our schools are in trouble and I have personally seen it at my own school. They have had to cut many classes that many of the students enjoy and I feel that those classes that have been cut could have really benefited the students who had an interest in them .

I agree that schools are losing money. But it's not just in colleges. My high school's budget has been cut a lot in the past couple years. This has led to classes being cut. Hopefully someone can come up with a solution to the money problems.

I agree that many schools are having troubles providing classes for the students. I read this blog for an assignment for an online class, and as I think about it I realize that I am grateful that I got into this class. Not only are colleges, universities, and community colleges losing money, the more local schools like high schools are also taking a turn for the worse. Many high schools are shutting down and having the kids transferred to other schools because they could no longer keep up with the demand of classes. It is weird how schools are suffering yet they can go and build a school in California for more than a million dollars. I just wish that someone will find a solution.

I'm senior in high school and looking for colleges, and funding and fees are a big part of that decision. I find myself comparing college prices some to me seem reasonable and some are just out there. Some public schools cost as much or much than a private college would. I think that more funding should go to colleges and other schools such as high schools or elementary schools because they are spending time with these students more than they are at home during the week so why should they suffer.

The way our country is set up, formal schooling is directly affected by the rising and falling of the economy. We as a society promote the idea that an education is important, but then cut funds for our schools all of the time. It really is mind-boggling.
As for those people who are dealing with problems out of school, it is amazing that some people can overcome such role conflicts to achieve a college education. Although the manifest function of college is to educate young people and prepare them for careers, a major latent function is teaching people to juggle different aspects of life and to prioritize.

Its true, our schools including colleges are losing financial support acros the board, how can we let this happen. Most of us grow up hearing our parents tell everyone that my child will be the first to go to college, for some this has been a dream fulfilled. However, for countless others thi dreamis becoming less and less attainable witht he high costs of tuition both in and out of state. I myself was unale to attend college as a young adult and am just now completing my last yearof my BS in Criminal justice. The oad has been a financial struggle all he way with having to sit out a seester or two becuase the money just wasn't available and the competititon for scholarships is fierce especially if you haven't been in school for 20 years. Tuition rises every year, I'm getting to the point now where I think if your paying for the educatin you should receive no less thn a passing grade. Putting myself through school and two other children has been a daunting task and they have just started, seems like every time I turn around they need money for soem extra in one of ther courses , but I won't ask them to sacrifice, thats my job, I have a career and I will complete my education but it may just take a lifetime. Collges are meant to prepare our young people for life, but when thye start out seeing the negative aspect due to financial constraint then wat do they think is out there for them if they don't get the education, and how many of them have friends who have graduated with degrees and still can't get jhobs and are having to struggle with unsurmountable studen loan debt. going to college has its positives and negatives, no one starts out on an even playing field the successful always start out with a deficit.

You've made some good points, and I agree. Although I see a problem, a delema; that I'm not sure how to solve. The United States schools, colleges, and universities, are raising their prices, to accomindate the increasing of prices of everything else. Although colleges aren't the only one's that have to deal with this increasing of prices, every other citizen in the United States also have to deal with the increasing of prices. American citizens also have to deal with it, most struggle to survive, and this leaves, almost no money to pay for education. Today America needs to catch up to other countries when it comes to education and increasing the price of that education, well its not the way.

budget cuts in the educational system is really putting a strain on many students trying to attend higher education. As a senior looking at colleges, i know exactly how it feels to balk at the sight of the high tuition and watch as the course lists deplete before my eyes. Education is very important for our country to grown and develop so we need to put more effort into funding our schools so we can get more students through the educational process.

I agree with Eric - many people that are unemployed or can only find minimal work and may not qualify for financial aid are stuck with the stress and burden of not only having to worry about how to get classes but also how to pay for them and the books.
I also find it very frustrating that the first day of school there are a vast amount of students trying to add classes and eventually a class is at its maximum capacity but weeks into the semester half of those students are often gone.

I agree that the economic problems we have been having are a burden to numerous organizations, especially when it comes to education. I am a senior who is trying to find as many scholarships as possible because i am so afraid that I will be affected by the budget changes. At this time I have been having a hard time figuring out how to plan out what my minor would be because my choice has been cut at some schools. Since we are having so many problems with budgeting higher education would be the best choice for many but it will not be an easy task. The most important thing would be to find the money wherever I can and save what I can, then budget the amount that I have. Now money is not the only reason why the budget is so tight because people do have their personal problems, which can take away opportunities from other students by trying to keep one on track. I know something has to change because students deserve to have the opportunity to better themselves by going to college and receiving all the knowledge that they can.

I totally agree with you. I like how you expose all the troubles that go on. No one really knows what is happening unless your involved in the school.

I struggle to wrap my mind around everything economically happening with education. Our job market is raising the bar for how much education we need; it's getting more and more competitive, calling for a more and more in depth education. But if getting a good education is gettting harder to achieve, how are we supposed to get jobs. Seems everything will result to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. I've seen many budget cuts in my school, and I've seen my parents worry about putting four children through college. I think that the struggle for getting a good education is a learning experience in itself. I've learned how hard I have to work to seek out scholarships, not only from colleges but from all over because the colleges don't really have very much extra money to spend.

That is absolutely horrible that you didn't have enough money for all the classes so there were less students appling to your college. There should be more grants for schools around the world. with no education your not going to have a great life that you dream about.

Capitalizing on the point made about the tuition costs of colleges or universities, I heard that recently, over in Europe tuition prices increased and protests broke out all over. The thing is, Europe's tuition is still nowhere near as high as ours and yet we have done hardly anything to rally against the fact that student tuition is just getting too high for even the middle class to afford. I mean, there is financial aid, but usually middle class citizens do not qualify due to level of income.

Schools, in this economy are in trouble. I agree with you. Because of the budget cuts, we have to cut down on things, and can not afoord some of the things we could have afforded. I didnt know about Max Weber's concept of verstehen, it was very intresting!

I agree, Schools are losing money rapidly. Schools are having troubles providing for the students they already have and each year it's going to just get harder and harder.

I do believe that schools are in trouble, my school has had a large budget cut and therefor had to cut 3 teacehrs and a few classes. I wish that there was a way to solve the money problems and I do belive that eventually there will be a solution but until then schools and students are just going to need to hang in there and do their best.

I agree that schools are in trouble and need help.Thats horrible that you had to turn students away.

I agree that schools are losing money. College is really expensive and are draining money from people but still losing money. High schools are too. Their have been many schools that have closed near my school because of tax increases and budget cuts.

the pressure of getting into good school is even more formidable than ever. The way that schools are run are in fact a microscoism of business today higher cost for the necessities to keep it running are destroying the education process.

Hope the government will lend their hand to rescue this failing educational system. In the first place, they are the ones who will take this issue once unemployment crisis will arise.

I agree with the points stated in the article. Education cuts are making it much more difficult to give students an increasingly higher education. Additionally I believe the break down of typical American values can be to blame. As more students are starting families before they pursue a higher education, the difficult of obtaining this education raises greatly. If our Government continues to cut education budgets it will be increasing harder for students to succeed.

This is so true! I see this happening all the time. Sadly, schools have to cut classes that students enjoy and someday wish to prosper an occupation in the different elective classes. Also, instead of schools hiring more teachers for the large quantity of students; they simply put more students in one class. This takes away from different types of one on one time between students and teachers. When a teacher communicates well with students they’re more successful, but this process isn’t allowing for that to happen. Thanks for sharing!

It seems like a huge shame to cut classes because of the budget. I understand that it is necessarily; i just wish that wouldn't have to be the solution to the money problem. When you cut classes you also most likely cut teachers. What if a school cuts the students favorite teacher? Then they sort of lose out on the quality relationship in addition to a class they probably enjoyed.

I agree that schools are in trouble. Its sad to see that too often school classes are being cut because of financial issues. Although schools are saving money with the cuts, it costs students the opportunity to explore a variety of classes. Consequently, students are forced to take ordinary classes, instead of being able to broaden their horizons.

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