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Published in Print: January 28, 2004, as Calif. Universities Fight To Save Outreach Funds

Calif. Universities Fight To Save Outreach Funds

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When she was in middle school, Sandra Casas aspired to go to college. For her, that meant a community college. It seemed like a lofty goal. Her mother, who raised her alone, had dropped out of high school. And money was usually tight.

Then she entered Magnolia High School in Anaheim, Calif., where her ambitions grew. Encouraged by a state-supported "outreach" program, Ms. Casas learned which high school classes would get her into a four-year university. She picked up advice about grants and scholarships targeted toward households like hers. Her counselor arranged field trips to campuses in Sonoma, Santa Barbara, and even Berkeley.

Today, four years of higher education doesn't seem so unrealistic. "I thought, 'I can make it,'" said Ms. Casas, 17, now a senior at Magnolia, who is Mexican-American. "It instilled confidence in me. I can be competitive. I have the ability to go to a university."

The Anaheim teenager is one of thousands of California students who have received academic tutoring, guidance counseling, and other services through state-financed outreach programs administered through the University of California and California State University systems. Those programs, which try to reach economically and educationally disadvantaged students across the state, have been targeted for elimination by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Minorities Affected?

The Republican governor has proposed cutting outreach for the UC system, which has eight undergraduate campuses, in the current fiscal year from $31.9 million to $19.7 million. The CSU system, with 23 undergraduate campuses, would see its outreach funds reduced from $52 million to $39.5 million. The governor proposes ending outreach funding to both campus systems entirely in fiscal 2005, which begins July 1.

Even though outreach efforts are not officially directed at racial or ethnic minorities, supporters say they have been vital to sustaining diversity at California's public institutions since voters there passed Proposition 209 in 1996. The measure imposed a statewide ban on race preferences in public employment, state education and contracting. UC campus officials decided to modify their outreach programs to comply with the law, soon after the ballot measure passed; CSU officials said their outreach program already complied with the law.

Minority students "would be disproportionately affected" by the proposed elimination of outreach programs, said Winston C. Doby, the vice president for education outreach for the UC system. "Not only would you see an enrollment drop, but you would also see students who come into college needing more remediation."

Because they regard the outreach programs as vital, UC and CSU officials say they will find ways to absorb any midyear cuts, by shifting funds from other areas. After that, their outreach programs may face more dramatic changes, they predict.

History of Outreach

An official from Gov. Schwarzenegger's administration says budget pain is unavoidable. The new administration inherited a deficit of at least $15 billion, out of a total state general fund of roughly $78 billion. Reducing outreach, they say, is more feasible than chopping basic university academic programs.

"The governor looked first at not wanting to impact the core institutional mission of the universities," said H.D. Palmer, a deputy director of the California finance department. "Virtually every aspect of state government is being asked to provide savings," he said. Pointing to California's ongoing struggles with a deficit, he added: "The bill's finally come due."

UC and CSU officials say outreach initiatives of one kind or another have been a fixture on their campuses for decades, but those programs were revamped and expanded in the late 1990s after the passage of Proposition 209. University officials made their programs race-neutral, targeting students who are disadvantaged either through economic or educational circumstances.

According to a 2003 report commissioned by the UC president, roughly 37 percent of the entering Latino/Chicano freshmen in 2001 in the UC system from California public high schools had participated in outreach programs. Roughly the same percentage of entering African-American students that year had taken part in outreach. For American Indian freshmen, the rate was 19 percent, while it was 15 percent for Asian-Americans and 6.5 percent for whites, according to the report, conducted by an independent panel studying the program.

Today, outreach programs offer students a variety of services, from academic counseling on college-prep courses to advice on filling out applications and financial-aid forms. Some programs focus on professional development for counselors and other staff members who work with students.

One recipient of such help is Magnolia High counselor Steve Gonzales. For the past 10 years, Magnolia High has received financial assistance through the Puente Project, which aims to increase college opportunities for disadvantaged students and trains high school and college personnel to help them.

For years, Mr. Gonzales has attended seminars arranged by Puente-one of a number of UC-affiliated outreach programs- learning strategies on building relationships with students and encouraging them to consider college. Today, he helps Puente train other counselors.

Offering Students Options

Mr. Gonzalez coordinates with middle schools that send students to his high school, identifying incoming 9th graders who might benefit from Puente's help. Many of the students he identifies have strong academic records, but the counselor says he looks for those who have struggled, too.

Mr. Gonzales has heard criticism that outreach programs like his go after students who would have sought out college anyway. That's a misperception, he says.

About 60 percent of Magnolia's 1,600 students are Hispanic, he estimates. Many come from families in which neither parent went to college. Some of the students mistakenly believe financial aid is not available to them; others underestimate their ability to gain admission to four-year schools. One senior he's worked with, Ms. Casas, said she's shed those doubts. She hopes to gain admission to UC-Berkeley, though she's applied to other four- year California colleges, too.

Throughout the year, Mr. Gonzales meets one- on- one with Puente students and advises them on classes needed to meet college- admission requirements. There's a heavy emphasis on preparing for college- level reading and writing, especially for freshmen and sophomores.

While Puente receives funding through the UC system, it does not send students only to those campuses, said Christopher M. Rivers, the Oakland-based organization's publications manager. Students also go on to other public schools, as well as private institutions and community colleges.

UC and CSU officials say they hope to convince lawmakers to fund their outreach programs next fiscal year, though they admit their chances are uncertain.

Mr. Palmer, the state official, says the governor is committed to helping college-bound students in other ways. Gov. Schwarzenegger has proposed allowing high school students who have been accepted by either the UC or CSU systems can to receive free tuition at any state community college, and later attend a public, four-year university.

"For too long, community colleges have been viewed as the stepchild of the higher education system," Mr. Palmer said. "The governor does not believe that's fair."

Vol. 23, Issue 20, Page 5

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