Growing up, a promise was made to me by the State of California. A promise of access to a system of quality public colleges and universities. A system that was accessible, affordable, and scalable. If I worked hard, I could choose from three tiers, based on my goals and individual academic achievements.
Today that opportunity has diminished. It is harder to believe in the promise of the Master Plan for Higher Education. It’s seems as if every morning, I wake up and there’s a new story about the deterioration of California’s master plan. Students are being squeezed out of campuses, paying more tuition, receiving fewer services, all while the fledgling system moves towards non-resident revenue-based enrollment initiatives.
The diminished access of our California public institutions is a topic I’ve blogged about since the 2008 economic downturn. I am a proud graduate of two California public institutions. I received my BA and MA from two different CSU campuses. Up until transition to my current position, I worked for an institution-based outreach program that served local students in that particular CSUs service area. I’ve seen the how budget cuts have affected faculty, staff, students, and the communities surrounding this college. I’ve been at protest where students advocate for access, at the same time the Board of Trustees is approving a tuition hike, and their campus is ramping up their out-of-state recruitment plans.
Needless to stay, I still believe in the promise. I spend my days trying to improve access to higher education, whether it’s at work, in my college advising project, places I volunteer, or through casual conversation. I was raised with the idea that education is the greatest institution for social transformation. By educating yourself, you are also educating your family and community.
In 2011, I made the choice to take a new position as an Admissions Counselor at a private, faith-based institution. I felt I had the opportunity to continue the legacy of providing a quality college education that was accessible and as much as possible, affordable. While interviewing, I made it clear that my passion was in college outreach programs and my experience was primarily at public universities. In the interviewing process, it was affirmed I would be able to recruit the same type of students as I did at the Cal State. I would be able to help first-generation students, low-income students, students of color, rural and migrant students achieve their goals of going to college.
After reading the latest Chronicle article, I was reminded how many California high school students are feeling “squeezed out.” A year ago, a study was released by the National University System Institute for Policy Research which outlined ways all post-secondary providers, particularly private ones, could increase college access and participation in California. In Making It Happen: Increasing College Access and Participation in California Higher Education, the authors posed the question, “How might private colleges and universities help the state address its capacity issues?”
I asked myself, how can my institution work towards increasing access? As a tuition-driven institution, can we also be committed to providing access to our local communities? I had a conversation with my director, as I remember it, she stated, “being a faith-based institution, we have a Catholic and social responsibility to provide access to students in our communities and make sure they are successful.”
As an admissions counselor, it’s my responsibility to educate and empower students to go to college. To show students and families the vast opportunities and options that exists in our state. To expand their college knowledge, helping them explore all post-secondary institution types and increasing access to higher education.
In the time I’ve been here we’ve expanded our outreach efforts in Los Angeles, Inland Empire, and Imperial Valley areas. We have explored ways to include non-cognitive measures in our evaluation of students. We’ve dedicated time to work one-on-one with students to maximize their financial aid packages. As was promised to me, I wanted to showcase an accessible, affordable, and quality institution. Although I don’t work for a public college, I am doing my best to make my current institution as accessible as they once were. This is my way of paying it forward. My way to show the promise of a college education is still alive.
As a hit the road, I am assured that even though my institution is tuition-driven, we are more so mission-driven. And our mission keeps me committed to providing access to students who seek a college education. I accept that responsibility and look forward to expanding college access as I interact with students and families at high school visits, college fairs, and financial aid workshops this fall.