Saturday, May 26, 2012


Editorial: Students and financial adversities

No Money, Plenty More Problems

The life of a college student is usually characterized by budget living.  Food costs money.  Books cost money.  Printing at the library costs money.
What is different today from the previous generation: a college degree is more essential to financial security more than ever, loans are the primary financial aid for most college students, and the elimination of retirement pensions to measly 401(k) retirement savings accounts.
            The Occupy Wall Street movement highlighted the other financial crisis—educated graduates burdened with loans and an economy in which jobs are endangered species.
The journey of completing higher education starts with a single step; for nearly 70 percent of California students, it starts at the community college.  In 2007, 55 percent of California State University and 30 percent of University of California baccalaureates were awarded to community college students who transferred, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott.   
Watch for Summer 2012 for higher tuition for the fee to go up from $36 to $46 “if state revenues fall more than $1 billion below projections and trigger cuts are executed” according to Chancellor Scott.
Investing into community colleges will alleviate the state budget crisis:  “For every $1 California spends on higher education, it receives $3 in return.  If just 2 percent more of Californians earned associate degrees and 1 percent more earned a bachelor’s degree, our state’s economy would grow by $20 billion, state and local tax revenue would increase by $1.2 billion a year and 174,000 new jobs would be created.” Chancellor Scott stated.
Reflecting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s current fiscal year’s budget, Scott estimated that up to 670,000 California students wanting to enroll in community colleges would be denied access.
Kevin Carey, the policy director of the independent, nonpartisan think tank Education Sector, credited the Occupy Wall Street movement for coercing, even President Obama to address the problem of hefty loans for students: “The students in Zuccotti Park are right to focus on the injustices of student debt: Many of them are indentured to the very banks that destroyed the economy.”   Furthermore, Carey points out that student loans are soaring much faster and higher than credit card debt; a report from CQ Researcher estimated the amount exceeding $830 billion.  Unlike other types of debt, student loans cannot be forgiven by declaring bankruptcy.
President Obama’s Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act pledged $40 billion for Pell grants which primarily benefit low-income students, “$2 billion over four years for community colleges” and limit student loan payments to 10 percent of income effective 2014.
Financial crises aside, most students are far too busy to educate themselves on financial literacy.  Credit card companies eagerly target college students recognized with the legal status of consenting adults.  Credit card companies offering free pens and hats set up shop near the Cub Bookstore and the Quad with clipboards.  Decisions made while at age 18  will continue to haunt until they are repaid.  Debts establish credit history. 
In such a sink-or-swim situation, City College students must teach themselves financial literacy more than ever.  Few years ago, financial guru Suze Orman came up with “The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke” (LACC Library call number 332.024 Or5m).  Many rules have changed from the previous generation, especially predatory credit card companies targeting college students and the disturbing trend of loans making up the bulk of financial aid packages. 
To My Fellow Fabulously Broke City College students: If you have a student loan or a credit card, please check your credit report every year to monitor for identity theft and inaccuracies.  By state law, every Californian is entitled to free credit reports every year from the three credit bureaus from  Those fortunate enough to work should invest in a 401(k) (assuming the employer still offers it). The Los Angeles Public Library has books and audio books available to download; search the catalog using the subject term “Finance, Personal.”
 Knowledge is power: financial literacy is the knowledge to be free from a lifetime of being broke.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Editorial: Community colleges

No Child Left Behind: The Community College Edition

Every student who completes a federal financial aid application has to look at the dismal City College completion and graduation rates, extracted from the National Center for Education Statistics.  
In 2010, only ten percent of entering students were counted as full time. The retention rate for full time students was sixty-one percent but thirty-five percent for part time students. Only fifteen percent graduated with degrees or certificates.  Only twelve percent of LACC students transferred to universities.
In order to boost the numbers, a statewide organization known as the California Community Colleges Student Success Task Force is gearing up for reform to boost graduation and transfer rates.
How do you boost numbers?
Get rid of the weakest link—part time students who struggle with work and family duties.  They have obligations that compete with school.
The Task Force intends to prioritize fee waivers for full time students to ensure that their degrees are completed within “normal” time.  For an associate degree, three years is the maximum period of “normal” to complete that study.
Proponents of the task force have described their goals as ensuring accountability. In a financial crisis, how can the state continue to invest in “lazy” students who don't bother with their classes?  The state should allocate its funds to the more “motivated” full time students, the Task Force recommends.  
Community colleges have been known for its access. The community college system in California is the largest in the nation.  
To register for City College takes seconds whereas getting into UCLA takes months of preparations.
Should higher education really be available to everyone who desires it?
The resources and finances at community colleges are bleeding.  The Task Force argues that resources must be “rationed.”  Full time students should receive fee waivers and priority registrations. The safe investments are the students who are progressing at “normal” time, whereas, students who are progressing slower would be considered riskier investments.  When degrees are not achieved in “normal” time, the figures make City College look like a campus of idiots and dilettantes.
Vigorous opponents from San Francisco City College have argued that getting rid of noncredit courses and a prioritization for full time students as privatization.
The retention and graduation figures don't tell the full story.  They don’t reveal students who are at City to learn for the sake of learning, to dabble into a new field, to retrain, to get their feet wet into an area that they had always desired but pursued another major field because of parental pressures.  
But government likes numbers.  The percentages are too low. Make 'em higher by kicking out the ones who bring down the numbers?
Learners exploring their desires need not apply.  Financial aid will be tied to grades and “normal” pace of progress towards degrees and transferring. The Task Force intends to build a transfer powerhouse with numbers to show off.
Community colleges have always been seen as the one accessible oasis to the population with the harshest adversities: minorities, first generation college students, low income, working-class.
Students who want to explore and slow pokes who stick around City College beyond three years—Sorry, my friends, the Task Force wants you out.

Illustration by Jose Tobar

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Opinion: Healthcare

Staying Alive – price tag $11,000,
Death – priceless

        I was at the store looking for a magazine at the rack, feeling breathless and dizzy.  Maybe there was a power outage, I thought, because the lights were going off. 
        When I woke from what felt like a deep sleep, I heard a voice speak in an authoritative tone: “You’ve just had a seizure.  We’re going to get you to a hospital.” 
I couldn’t be certain if I was dreaming a strange delusion inspired by a television episode of ER. 
        “Can you tell me what today’s date is?” he asked.
        I diligently ravaged my brain but I drew a blank.
        Ashamed, I frowned and I pathetically shook my head.
        “That’s ok,” said the paramedic.  More people hovered around me with tubes. 
        I then realized my head was on the floor and these people were looking down at me. I tried to remember the circumstances preceding to my laying on the floor.
        He injected my right arm with painful ivies to take my vital signs.
        “You can hold my hand,” said a concerned female bystander.
        He then confirmed that they were going to take me to the “UCLA hospital.”
        ‘Oh no,’ I thought, ‘not the Neiman Marcus of hospitals!’
        I was quickly transported to the garage.  I heard the sirens.  A group of emergency room doctors in white coats and nurses in navy blue scrubs hovered over me.
        Business first.  The Admissions counselor remained stoic in her countenance and handed me a pink Faustian form consenting to medical care, which is the same as consenting to medical debt.
        “I can’t afford it,” I shook my head.
        “You might as well,” she said, “you’re already here.”
I currently owe the City of Culver City $1,860 for ambulance services and $11,000 to the UCLA Ronald Reagan hospital. 
Advertised as “ a public health insurance program which provides needed health care services for low-income individuals”, Medi-Cal is what a social worker will advise if you are low income and need medical care. Unfortunately, even though I am low-income, I do not quality because the eligibility requirements are so restrictive; as an individual who is not on welfare, I must be pregnant, younger than 21 or older than 65 to qualify.
I am in the process of submitting my charity application, my only resort. I am unable to pay my medical bills.  I currently work as a temp, making $13 an hour, which yields a gross income too high for welfare.  I have been described as a hard worker.  In addition to my day job, I have tried to make ends meet by working in various second jobs as a teaching assistant and as a tutor.

        While attending college, my father was hospitalized.  He also faced collection notices and bills with dizzying rows of zeroes and commas, huge sums of money that we did not have.
        I am lucky.  Although I know the price tag of staying alive, the quality (yet extravagantly) comprehensive treatment at UCLA Ronald Reagan hospital ruled out any terminal illness as a cause for the seizure.
        But I still struggle to work, to save money, and I watch my father die. 
        Medi-Cal, the supposed state progtam for the low income, restricts eligibility to such a tiny portion of the population with insanely arbitrary age restrictions. What about men who are sixty-four years old like my father? 
        He has a catheter attached to his leg because of his bladder problems.  I was hoping to save my money so that he could see a urologist but I now face my own bills.  Will he live long enough for Medicare? 
        When I was five, my father and I immigrated to America, the land of opportunity.  His withering health makes a mockery of the treasured value we held as newly immigrated Americans.
        I know that I am not the only American daughter watching her father die and sink into debt that I will never be able to pay off.
        In desperation, I have even considered sending my father as a medical tourist to Korea where universal healthcare is offered.  Unfortunately, he is in no condition to get on a plane.
        We both work hard and we both pay taxes as legal residents who pay our fair share.
        The State of California has programs for minors, children, and pregnant women.  But what about the non-pregnant? 
        As a graduate of UCLA, I am even more frustrated and ashamed that I couldn't wade through the system to get healthcare for my father.  His social security disability application was rejected even though his income was cut more than half since his hospitalization.
        My father and I have both realized the cost of staying alive, which is far higher than dying.  Are lives devalued so much to the point that a cost-benefit analysis would point to death as the more affordable option? 

Los Angeles City Collegian – Issue 2 – 3/5/12