Extending Our Educational Dollars

ACCESS

Access to a College Education Disappearing

In the late 1970’s, a woman from the local university visited China on one of the first exchanges allowed by the US State Department since 1948.  Returning to Riverside, she shared reflections by family members she had encountered in China.  The recurring theme was about education, and the tone was despairing.  “My life is over.  I was unable to pursue a college education during the Cultural Revolution, and now, my life is over.”

Those are strong words for a culture that reveres education.  The period of educational decay was caused, mainly, by ideology.  Certainly economics had a part in it, too.

A generation of American students currently entering into higher education is now facing a daunting challenge in their quest to earn a diploma.   Colleges have had to cut back on classes offered, grants, loans, and facilities due to budget shortfalls.  It is not unusual to talk to students who have recently enrolled in the community college, yet only have two classes.  It is also not unusual that the two classes have absolutely no bearing on a student’s declared major, or even breadth requirements.  Students are simply taking classes to reserve their place in the institution.

The consequences are far-reaching.   Grants, scholarships and loans are often tied to full-time enrollment.  Students intending to enroll full-time are unable to do so, even after they have paid the fees for full-time course work.  As a result, students will inevitably drop out, or else, they face long protracted enrollments in college.  None of these situations is desirable.  If current space is a problem, students who are forced to remain at the college for 8 years create a virtual domino effect, preventing the younger students from getting their classes.

Certainly as budgets improve, education might make some type of recovery.  However, at the same time, this particular group of students might have lost an opportunity to make good on their efforts to earn a degree for a career they desire.   Reduced access to a college education creates troubling challenges to our nation.

Online and hybrid classes can greatly extend the access students have to classes.  Once a class is created digitally, the “class size” can be quite large.  An important consideration is how a class, especially a purely online class, will meet accreditation standards, no matter how well the class is presented.  Also, can classes presented in an online format expect to be eligible for application of scholarships and grants?  Perhaps in infancy, yes.  However, over time, requirements can change.  For that reason, the online/hybrid format discussion must go well past the individual institution.  It is a political issue.  It is an institutional issue.  Regardless, it is a conversation that must begin immediately.

© 2012 Laurie Mena

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