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UCLA researchers find declining opportunities, student stress at Cal State Northridge

February 15, 2011 | 12:01 am

California’s recession and education cuts are stressing students to the breaking point, with many reporting that they can no longer afford college and that attaining a degree will take them years longer than planned.

Those are some of the findings of a survey of 2,000 students at Cal State Northridge conducted in fall 2010 by the UCLA Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles. The report, “Squeezed From All Sides,” to be released Tuesday, charts an environment of “declining educational opportunities” in which California students “are being asked to pay much more to get less,” said coauthors Patricia Gándara and Gary Orfield.

About half of the respondents said their parents were providing less financial support to them than  because of job losses and reduced salaries. Nearly 59% of students said they were giving more financial resources to their families because of the recession.

Eighty percent of students said it is harder now than a year or two ago to afford college expenses, and many cited spiraling tuition, which rose 32% in 2009-10 and will increase by 15% more this fall.

Two-thirds of students said they had been unable to get the classes they need to obtain a degree, and three-quarters said they thought it would take an additional year or more to finish.

The authors said the cuts to education are problematic because higher education is an economic engine that produces jobs. The 23-campus Cal State University system produces the vast majority of bachelor’s degrees in the state and serves a diverse student population that will increasingly provide California's future workforce, they note.

Cal State Northridge, with 35,000 students, is one of California's largest public campuses, with a student population that reflects the state’s racial and ethnic demographics.

“We are overburdening these young people -- many of whom are the first in their family to get a degree and many of whose parents are struggling -- by policies that place the onus on them,” said Gándara, a UCLA education professor.

Students were invited to include comments with their responses, and their woes are affecting.

“I am a single mom with an entire family of parents and siblings depending on me for help,” wrote one. “We are in a dire situation.”

Another lamented : “I planned to graduate in spring 2009 but because I can’t afford school and can only get into a few classes I probably won’t graduate until fall 2011. Very stressful and at times makes me want to drop out.”

Cal State Northridge has tried to offset some of the sting of budget cuts, for example by encouraging those with enough credits to graduate to take that step, thereby freeing up about $7 million more this year in financial aid for new students, said provost Harold Hellenbrand.

More online classes are being offered, and graduation and retention rates are up from last year, he said. But he said the UCLA survey reflects a difficult reality for many students — and administrators.

“We’re all managing, but it’s like you’re skating on ice and you can begin to hear the ice cracking under you,” Hellenbrand said. “You realize you better keep skating because the cracks are beginning to open up.”

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-- Carla Rivera

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