US News & World Report: The Great Recession’s Toll On Higher Education

Link to article

A terrific article on the current situation in higher education. It includes some shocking examples of student reactions.

Other students are bidding goodbye to crowded classes and overburdened professors. The University of Oregon, for example, has seen the number of applicants from budget-crunched California jump from 4,600 to 7,000. Typical of the new Oregonians is Nate Gartrell, who lost his enthusiasm for studying journalism at San Francisco State University last year when he got shut out of his first-choice courses. He says he sometimes had to sit on the steps in second- and third-choice classes. “The state budget cuts were getting ridiculous,” he says. One final straw: “I wrote something hastily 45 minutes before class. I knew it was terrible and was full of typos. I was expecting a D and still got an A minus” from a professor he says was too busy to thoughtfully critique his work.

Dorrian Lewis, a senior at Mission High School in San Francisco, remembers spending months in the fall of 2009 writing essays for scholarship contests. But she won only a few hundred dollars, nowhere near the $3,800 she’d need to cover tuition, books, and transportation to nearby City College of San Francisco. “I panicked for a little bit,” she says. So she filled out a profile on ScholarMatch, a website for San Francisco Bay Area students started by Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Within a few weeks, anonymous donors had contributed enough to cover her costs. Managers of the site say that many of the donors don’t appear to be connected to the students but simply contribute $20 or $50 to help those who sound deserving. “We are under no impression that this is a silver bullet,” says Eggers, who notes that only 11 of about 100 ScholarMatch students have received the full amount requested. “But this is one tool” that can help fill in financial aid holes caused by the recession, he says.

Most hopeful of all may be the structural reforms instituted by college leaders who believe the current funding crisis is not a result of the economic cycle, but a permanent reality. Cuts that reduce educational access or quality “threaten our viability in the competitive global economy,” says William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland. But reducing the cost of higher education doesn’t have to reduce its quality, he says. “Can higher ed become more effective and efficient? Absolutely,” he argues.

Students in many states should prepare for more cuts. Massachusetts, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and several others have delayed severe layoffs by patching budget holes with federal stimulus funds. That money runs out next year. If the economy doesn’t improve significantly by then, today’s grim situation at public universities could get a lot grimmer.

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