5/2/2013 3:23:50 PM
As marketing to children intensifies, what can society do?
This article is adapted from Solutions Online and is licensed under Creative Commons 3.0.
A four-year-old arrives at school and starts crying when she realizes her lunch is packed in a generic plastic bag, not the usual Disney Princess lunchbox she so loves. A friend tells her she won’t be able to sit at the princess lunch table—it’s only for girls with princess lunchboxes.
A fourth grader arrives home from school all excited. He has a Book It certificate from Pizza Hut because his mother signed the form showing that he met the reading-at-home goal his teacher set for him. He pleads with his mother to take him to Pizza Hut for dinner that night.
Sixth graders are assigned the task of writing to their principal about something important that they would like to see happen at their school. They decide to ask for school vending machines that sell snack foods and drinks.
Marketing is a more powerful force in the lives of children growing up today than ever before, beginning from a very young age. The stories above provide but a few examples of how it can shape learning and behavior at home and in school. Marketing affects what children want to eat, wear, and play, and with whom they play. It also shapes what they learn, what they want to learn, and why they want to learn. And it primes them to be drawn into, exploited, and influenced by marketing efforts in schools.
What Can We Do?
Many feel that a complete ban on all marketing to children is an impossible dream. But that is exactly what many countries do. Advertising to children is restricted in Great Britain, Belgium, Denmark, and Greece, and totally banned in Sweden and Norway. Studies have recently shown that children in Sweden want fewer toys, as a result. A study proves what companies already know: advertising to children works. Why advertise if it’s not effective? Similar efforts to restrict advertising were attempted in the United States in the 1970s but, unfortunately, failed to pass.
More restrictions might be on the way in countries like the UK, where a recent investigation into the causes of the 2011 looting found that a culture of consumption, fueled by marketers, played a role in the civil unrest. Early in 2012, the Riots, Communities, and Victims Panel, set up by Prime Minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, called for action against “aggressive advertising aimed at young people,” citing evidence that “rampant materialism was an underlying cause of last year’s lawlessness.”
The fact that marketing in schools is such an omnipresent and pernicious force in children’s lives makes finding solutions of utmost importance. It is unrealistic to expect that in the current economic times we can make marketing and the influence of marketing in schools go away. But, there is much we can and must do to reduce its harmful impact on children. No one effort can solve the problem; a multifaceted approach is needed. Here is what a comprehensive and meaningful response, directed at children, families, schools, communities, and the wider society, might be:
1. Educate parents, teachers and policymakers about the harm that marketing to children, especially in schools, can cause to children’s development, learning, and behavior. It is only through a change in public understanding of the dangers that we will be able to turn the tide.
2. Protect children as much as possible from exposure to commercial culture. Parents can use strategies at home that reduce children’s exposure to and focus on commercial culture and products, including less dependence on media that has advertising and multiple products associated with it. They can promote their children’s involvement with meaningful real world activities that do not focus on consumption or advertising. One school sent home a letter to parents with ideas for birthday parties that didn’t involve commercial themes like Disney Princesses or fast food chains’ packaged events.
Teachers and school administrators can work to reduce marketing in schools. For instance, they can limit the number of products with logos in school. This might involve setting up rules about what commercial products and logos children bring to school, and coming up with alternative, low-cost strategies to meet the same needs the banned product met. For instance, one early childhood program banned lunch boxes with logos, and sent home suggestions to parents about alternative, inexpensive containers they could use to pack their children’s lunches. One school board created a middle-school dress code that severely limited the size of logos that could appear on students’ clothing because so much bullying and teasing occurred against the children who didn’t have the “right,” clearly visible logos on their clothing.
3. Counteract the harmful lessons children learn from marketing both in and out of school. Teach children about the nature and impact of marketing and commercial culture in age-appropriate ways. Children are unduly influenced by ads and marketing practices directed at them because of how they think and also because of the unrelenting ways marketers capture their attention and loyalty. One teacher designed an activity based on the book Arthur’s TV Troubles by Marc Brown. The teacher asked students whether they had ever been disappointed with something they bought based on an ad. Every child had a story to share. When they wrote these stories down for homework, they produced their best writing of the year! In these days of No Child Left Behind pressures, which have forced educators to focus on the demands of the test rather than on the broad-based learning needs of children, we must convince educational policy makers that children will be more successful learners if they aren’t constantly being lured away from their lessons by marketing.1
Children need to feel safe talking to a trusted adult about what they see marketed at school and beyond and what they think about it, without being embarrassed, ridiculed, or punished. Only by having such conversations can we learn what children think and, in turn, influence their thinking. This does not mean lecturing about what is right and wrong or good and bad, or criticizing children for what they say and think. It means having give-and-take conversations that show we care about what they think and say, and hope they will care about and listen to what we have to say too. This is the key starting point for influencing the lessons that children are learning from marketing in schools.
4. Enact government regulations and policies that limit marketing in schools. Government and policy makers must play a role in limiting marketing to children, even in these harsh economic times. The best way to make this happen will be by providing adequate funding for schools, so that schools do not need to be so dependent on corporations. Great Britain provides the United States with a powerful example for what we can do: in 2006 it established a ban on junk food in school meals.2
One Organization, Making A Difference
Ten years ago, a Harvard academic, a child advocate, and a puppeteer launched an organization named Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC), and it has lead a national effort to police advertising and marketing to children. Based out of Boston, a coalition of educators, health care providers, parents, academics, and advocacy groups take on major corporations that they find are marketing to children, from Pizza Hut and Sunny D to the coal industry and Disney. Started by Susan Linn, a professor, the organization has landed a number of recent victories, including persuading Disney to offer a refund to parents who bought Baby Einstein videos and pressuring Scholastic to stop taking money from the coal industry. Scholastic was forced to drop its curriculum for fourth graders after admitting it was paid for by the National Coal Foundation. The curriculum was, unsurprisingly, one-sided in its endorsement of coal, without any mention of the environmental repercussions or of alternative energies.
CCFC’s current campaign includes a move to pressure PBS to drop its partnership with the fast-food company Chik-fil-A, in which the channel is paid to present commercials for fast food at the beginning and end of its shows. It also wants advertising to be removed from school buses. In an age when it seems even the most well-respected advocacy groups—from Sierra Club to Save the Children—have begun accepting corporate money, CCFC stands alone in refusing to be bought off.
Although there is tremendous work to be done, and the advertising and marketing industry is a financial behemoth to tackle, we believe that children deserve to grow up free of invasive and unrelenting marketing messages that peddle products known to be harmful to the health and well-being of young people. Children deserve the opportunity to explore their creativity without the interference of do-it-for-you toys. They must be able to develop the capacity to make independent decisions, and to enjoy life free from the insecurities and pressures inherent in marketing campaigns. We hope that the United States will follow the lead of other countries and recognize that restricting corporations’ ability to market to children is a healthy and necessary step.
- Defending the Early Years [online]. www.defendingtheearlyyearsproject.org.
- BBC News. Junk food banned in school meals [online] (May 19, 2006). news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/4995268.stm.
Photo by Labpluto123, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/3/2013 12:09:08 PM
If we want more students to succeed in college, we have to turn
full attention to the craft of university-level teaching. What’s at stake is
not only increasing graduation rates but providing a quality education for
those who, a generation or two ago, might not have seen college as possible.
originally appeared at the
Right after I gave
my opening lecture on Oedipus the King to the 30 employees of Los Angeles’s
criminal justice system, I handed out a few pages of notes I would have taken
if I were sitting in their seats listening to the likes of me.
They were taking my course, Introduction to Humanities, as
part a special program leading to a college degree, and I knew from a survey I
gave them that many hadn’t been in a classroom in a long time – and some didn’t
get such great educations when they were. So we spent the last half hour of the
class comparing my notes with the ones they had just taken, talking about the
way I signaled that something was important, how they could separate out a big
idea from specific facts, how to ask a question without looking like a dummy.
I taught that humanities course more than 30 years
ago, but I was thinking about it as I read the new report from the National
Commission on Higher Education Attainment, “College Completion Must Be Our
Priority.” The report is a call to leaders in higher education to
increase graduation rates by scheduling courses and services to accommodate
working adults, developing more on-line learning, easing the ability of students
to transfer, and implementing a host of other sensible solutions to the many
barriers that are contributing to America’s
stagnating college graduation rates.
But if we want more students to succeed in
college, then colleges have to turn full attention to teaching.
To their credit, the authors of the college
completion report call for better professional development for college faculty;
however, most reports of this type have little to say about teaching, focusing
instead on structural and administrative reforms outside the classroom. It is a
Perhaps the authors of these reports believe that
teaching is such an individual activity that not much can be done to affect it.
Another reason has to do with the way college
teaching gets defined in practice. Faculty become experts in a field, and then
they pass on their knowledge to others through college courses. Some teachers
get very good at this delivery – compelling lectures, creative demonstrations,
engaging discussions, and useful assignments. But professors don’t usually
think beyond their subjects to the general intellectual development of the
undergraduates before them, to enhancing the way they learn and make sense of
Finally, I don’t see much evidence at the policy
level of a deep understanding of college-level teaching or a respect for its
The problem starts in the graduate programs where
college instructors are minted. Students learn a great deal about, let’s say,
astrophysics or political science, but not how to teach it. They might assist
in courses and pay attention to how their professors teach, but none of this is
systematic or a focus of study or mentoring.
And there is rarely a place in the curriculum to
consider the difficulties students might have as they learn how to think like
an astrophysicist or political scientist. And then there are the reading and
writing difficulties that can emerge when encountering a discipline for the first
The majority of new college faculty wants to teach
well – and many do. But they won’t find on most college campuses an
institutional culture that fosters teaching. To be sure, there are rewards for
good teaching – awards, the esteem of students – and most institutions, even
research universities, consider exemplary teaching as a factor in promotion.
And some campuses have programs that provide resources for instruction, but
they tend to be low-status and under-utilized operations.
Teaching has special meaning now, as the authors
of the report on student success point out, because close to half of American
undergraduates are a bit more like those students in my humanities class than
our image of the traditional college student fresh out of high school.
Particularly in the community colleges and state
colleges where the majority of Americans receive their higher education,
students are older, they work, and many have children. A significant percentage
are the first in their families to go to college; somewhere between 40 to 50
percent need to take one or more remedial courses in English or mathematics.
To do right by these students, we need to rethink
how to teach them. This does not mean rushing to electronic technology – a
common move these days. On-line instruction of any variety will only be as good
as the understanding of teaching and learning that underlies it.
We can begin by elevating the value of teaching
and creating more opportunities to get better at it. For those students who
need help with writing, mathematics, and study skills, there are tutoring
centers and other campus resources. Faculty should forge connections with these
resources but realize that they, too, can provide guidance and tricks of the
trade – like taking good notes – as well as an orientation to their field.
In my experience, students at flagship
universities and elite colleges could also benefit from this approach to
instruction. Just ask them.
Doing such things does not mean abandoning our
subject area but rather enhancing it and opening a door to it.
Working with those humanities students on their
notes helped them develop better note-taking techniques. But as we studied
technique, we also thought hard about how to determine what’s important – and
how to make someone else’s information your own. All this involved talking
further about Greek tragedy, about literary interpretation, and about what the
humanities can provide
What’s at stake is not only increasing graduation
rates but also providing a quality education for those who, a generation or two
ago, might not have seen college as possible.
a professor in the UCLA
of Education & Information Studies and author of Back to School: Why
Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education.
Image by Alan Levine, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/22/2013 3:53:04 PM
Faced with shrinking budgets and a test-centric reform agenda, high school students across the country
are fighting back. Risking expulsion and even arrest, students are confronting
broken policies with walkouts, boycotts, and other creative actions.
post originally appeared at Waging
“You’re going to be expelled,” an
administrator at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md., just twenty minutes
away from the Washington, D.C., line, told the two boys sitting in her
office on March 1, 2012.
“What?” Ricardo Fuentes, then a junior,
asked, feigning ignorance.
Project Xbox was the code-name for the
walkout that Fuentes had helped plan with El Cambio, an activist student group
at Northwestern, for the National Day of Action for Education that day. Hours
before the walkout he and his friend had been pulled into the office and
confronted by the school’s administration. Administrators had pinpointed the
two boys as key organizers — though only Fuentes was actually involved — and
were determined to put a stop to it. They held the boys in the room for seven
hours, offering to let them out only to visit lunch periods to tell people to
stop the walkout. Fuentes, already resigned to his fate, refused to cooperate.
That afternoon, the sound of 400 students
walking out of class — nearly a third of the school’s population — flooded
Northwestern’s halls. Students were met at the door with teachers,
administrators, security and police officers. They could see canine units
waiting for them in the parking lot. Students turned back and started marching
through the halls, searching for another exit, when they were blocked off at
staircases. In the end, Fuentes and three of his friends were suspended for six
days for helping to organize the walkout.
The walkout was not an aimless excuse to
skip school, but a calculated response to a specific list of grievances. El
Cambio’s communiqué, which it circulated in advance of the walkout, named seven
grievances: disgusting bathroom conditions, enormous class sizes, teachers who
had been refused pay raises three years in a row, the denial of promised
funding for their band to go to nationals, cuts to funding for English-as-a-second-language
programs, exploited and deported Filipino teachers, and the lack of a
meaningful student role in the decision-making process. These grievances
describe the conditions of many of Prince
George’s County public schools. In a state that has
been ranked number one in education for five
consecutive years, Prince George’s County
has only a single school that performs at or above the Maryland average, with almost all other
schools falling well below it.
El Cambio found support among some
teachers, who privately coached and guided the first-time organizers or gave
their tacit approval. But others opposed the students’ activism altogether. One
teacher went as far as to admonish Fuentes for El Cambio’s inclusion of
teachers’ concerns among their grievances.
Though Northwestern’s walkout is
exceptional in the region, it is not altogether unique. In the past year, for
instance, there have been a series of walkouts in high schools in New York City, most notably the May 1,
2012, walkout of
students at Paul Roebson
High School in Brooklyn
organized with Occupy Wall Street.
High school organizing presents a
different kind of situation than college organizing. In public high schools,
students are closely tied to their neighborhoods and their homes. They are not
merely temporary residents, as many college students are, but members of their
communities. Most of them have grown up in the area or lived there for a long
time; many will continue to live there for most of their lives. They have a
long-term commitment to the quality of their schools and neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, high schoolers live under demanding, unyielding schedules determined
by administrators who routinely ignore and marginalize students’ voices.
“I think that high schoolers always get
forgotten,” Fuentes said. “They think that everything is easy for us, and it’s
“It is authoritarian. We don’t feel like
we have any power,” said Shane James, a senior at Northwestern who was
suspended for helping to organize the walkout with El Cambio. “When you have no
power over what dominates your life, you feel like you are powerless as a
person. How are you supposed to learn to be an individual with ideas and a
critical thinker if you don’t feel like you have control over your own ideas?”
Increasingly, public high schools are
inundated with standardized tests and regimented expectations, from which any
deviation is considered a chaotic interruption by the administration. In
response to this kind of environment, in early January, teachers at Garfield High School
voted to refuse to administer the Measure of Academic Progress tests and waged
a small war against their administration. Their boycott of the tests has
inspired similar boycotts among teachers and students in high
schools across the country, including in Portland
and Rhode Island.
“We’re opting out because we want to send
this greater message about not standardizing our education system,” Alexia
Garcia, the student representative of Portland Public Schools student union.
Her student union, which is sanctioned by the district, in conjunction with the
Portland Student Union, a student-run organization in Portland
high schools, launched an opt-out campaign just a couple weeks after the Seattle teachers did. In Portland, high school juniors must take the Oregon
Assessment of Skills and Knowledge exam, which is used to assess Portland public high
schools — and, starting next year, teachers. Based on this assessment, each
school is given a grade, and it must test at least 95 percent of students in
every demographic in order to get a passing grade. The goal of the opt-out is
to give every school a failing grade by lack of participation, and thus
compromise the whole process.
“We want to send the message that we’d
like to see a more holistic approach and holistic evaluation,” Garcia said.
“There is so much more to a student than how they perform on a test.”
Portland students have found support not only
from their community but from their teachers. The teachers’ union can’t
officially support the students or its members could risk losing their teaching
licenses, but teachers have privately voiced their approval of student’s
actions. Administrators, predictably, have not received the opt-out campaign so
kindly. They’ve sent letters to parents stressing the importance of
standardized testing. Administrators in Portland
have done everything they can to end the student protest.
“We need a new mentality about how
schools are supposed to function and how to educate kids,” James said. “You’re
not going to educate kids by telling them to shut up and be quiet. You’re going
to educate kids by letting them speak out and question authority — by letting
them challenge things and really act on their interests and their passions.”
of gravestone protest signs at John Muir High School
in Pasadena, California, by Jerome
T, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/3/2012 2:35:49 PM
It was the
greatest education system the world had ever seen. They built it into the
eucalyptus-dotted Berkeley hills and under the
bright lights of Los Angeles, down in the valley
in Fresno and in the shadows of the San Bernardino Mountains. Hundreds of college campuses,
large and small, two-year and four-year, stretching from California's
emerald forests in the north to the heat-scorched Inland
Empire in the south. Each had its own DNA, but common to all was
this: they promised a “public” education, accessible and affordable, to those
with means and those without, a door with a welcome mat into the ivory tower,
an invitation to a better life.
Then California bled that
system dry. Over three decades, voters starved their state—and so
their colleges and universities—of cash. Politicians siphoned away
what money remained and spent it more on imprisoning people, not educating
them. College administrators grappled with shriveling state support by jacking
up tuitions, tacking on new fees, and so asking more each year from
increasingly pinched students and families. Today, many of those students
stagger under a heap of debt as they linger on waiting lists to get into
the over-subscribed classes they need to graduate.
California's public higher education
system is, in other words, dying a slow death. The promise of a cheap, quality
education is slipping away for the working and middle classes, for immigrants,
for the very people whom the University
of California's creators
held in mind when they began their grand experiment 144
years ago. And don't think the slow rot of public education is unique to California: that state's
woes are the nation's.
Baltazar lives this grim reality. In 2010, after a decade working as a
preschool teacher and a teacher's assistant, the 28-year-old Baltazar went back
to school, choosing De Anza,
a two-year community college near San
Jose. She remembers the sticker shock when she first arrived
cost per class had spiked startlingly since she graduated from high school in
2000. She would live lean, pick up side jobs, sacrifice what she could to get a
degree. "I was willing to be poor and not know if I'm gonna make it,"
she told me on a recent morning, her roommate's cat meowing in the background.
"I wanted that degree so I could have a better future."
She squeezed 20
units of classes into a quarter (not the 12 to 15 of the average student). She
worried each week about having enough money for rent, books, food. Still, she
thrived. She founded De Anza's Women Empowered Club, won the school’s
President's Award for overcoming adversity, and planned to transfer to nearby Santa Clara University to double major in psychology
and women's studies—until, that is, a state-funded "Cal Grant"
She met all the
qualifications, she told me, but Cal Grant officials informed her that she was
too old. The likely culprit, whatever they claimed: the endless state budget
cuts that had forced officials to scale back the Cal Grant program. The experience, she said, shook her
fundamental belief in the promise California
made to its students: "The impression you have is, 'I do a great job at De
Anza and I'll get to the next level.' The reality is there might not be a place
something new in what was once known as “the golden state.” For nearly as long
as colleges and universities operated in California,
there was a place for every student with the grades to get in. Classes were
cheap, professors accessible, and enrollments grew at a rapid clip. When my own
fatherstarted at Mt. San Antonio College in southern California in August 1976, anyone 18 or
older could enroll, and a semester's worth of classes cost at most $24. Then,
like so many Californians, he transferred to a four-year college, the University of California-Davis, and paid a similarly
paltry $220 a quarter. Davis's
tuition price: $4,620.
education in California
is ever less public. It is cheaper
for a middle-class student to attend Harvard (about $17,000 for tuition, room,
and board with the typical financial-help program included) than Cal State
a mid-tier school that'll run that same middle-class student $24,000 a year.
That speaks to Harvard's largesse when it comes to financial aid, but also the
relentless rise of tuition costs in California.
For the first time in generations, California's
community colleges and state universities are turning away qualified new
students and shrinking their enrollments as state funding continues its long,
slow decline. Many students who do gain admission struggle to enroll in the
classes they need—which, by the way, cost more than they ever have.
"We're in a new era," says John
Aubrey Douglass, an expert on the history of higher education in California. He’s not
exaggerating. Not a bit.
the Valley with the People"
California would not exist as we know
it today without higher education. At its peak, the state's constellation of
community colleges and Cal State and University
of California campuses
had no rival. It was the crown jewel of American education.
launched the college-building craze when, in 1862, as the bullets flew and the
bodies fell on the battlefields of the Civil War, he signed
the Morrill Act, giving every state a huge tract of federal land with which
to build a public university. In 1869, California
joined the craze by opening the University
of California. One
newspaper editorial hailed it as "the perfect structure, a magazine of new
thoughts and new motives, ready for the new and bright day of the future."
Another supporter declared that it would be a "mighty anchor in the stream
Yet not until California's
trust-busting Progressive politicians claimed power in the early 1900s did the
populist promise of the state's higher education system begin to take shape.
The Progressives saw higher education as a path to the middle class—and with
an educated middle class they were convinced they could loosen the stranglehold
corporate powers like the Southern Pacific Railroad had on the state. "The
university was their Progressive dream come true," historian Kevin Starr
for the University
of California soared from
a few hundred thousand dollars in 1900 to more than $3 million by 1920. As
future UC president Clark Kerr would write, "The campus is no longer on the hill with
the aristocracy but in the valley with the people."
Down in that
valley, more and more people wanted an education. New campuses sprouted
statewide before World War II, and then in its wake were flooded with returning
GIs and former war workers. Governor Earl Warren used those colleges and
universities as "shock absorbers" when the state’s wartime
economy-on-steroids slowed. He put his money on a novel concept: California would educate
its way out of any post-war slump.
system exploded in the 1940s and 1950s. Students poured into classrooms. But
not until Kerr became president did he and other education leaders attempt to
create a systemic blueprint for growth with what was called the "California
Master Plan for Higher Education." Under this plan, the brightest
students were to attend a flagship UC school, the next-smartest group would go
to a Cal State school, and the remainder would
start at a two-year community college with an eye toward transferring to a
The Master Plan brought order to a rapidly growing system.
It was hailed around the world as a stroke of genius when it came to educating
young people. In 1960, Time magazine even put Kerr on its cover, bestowing on him the title of "master
planner." (Kerr was a complicated figure. He later clashed with
UC-Berkeley's famed Free Speech Movement, yet FBI director J. Edgar Hoover
believed he was too close to campus activists and secretly pushed
for his ouster. The college's board of regents unceremoniously fired him in 1967.)
This was the
heyday of California
higher education. Enrollment grew by 300 percent between 1930 and 1960, and the
state's share of college funding kept pace. But that all started to change on
June 6, 1978, when California
voters approved Proposition 13, a ballot measure that limited property tax
assessments. More importantly, it handcuffed state lawmakers by requiring a
two-thirds supermajority any time they wanted to increase taxes, and made a
two-thirds vote among citizens necessary to raise local taxes. Prop. 13 kicked
off California's "tax revolt" of the 1970s and 1980s,
a slew of ballot measures that choked off revenue for state and local
governments and left lawmakers scrambling to fill the gap. It was the beginning
of the demise of public higher education in California.
Just Getting Chainsawed"
Schrag describes what followed as the "Mississippification" of California. Hot with the fever of an
anti-tax, small-government movement, Californians began the long, slow
burn-down of the state's higher education system. As Jeff Bleich, a former Cal State trustee and former counsel to President Obama,
put it in 2009, California
higher education "is being starved to death by a public that thinks any
government service—even public education—is not worth paying for. And
by political leaders who do not lead but instead give in to our worst,
tell the story. In 2011, public colleges and universities received 13 percent
less in state money than they had in 1980 (when adjusted for inflation). In
1980, 15 percent of the state budget had gone to higher education; by 2011,
that number had dropped to 9 percent. Between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 state
budgets, lawmakers sliced away another $1.5 billion in funding, the largest
such reduction in any high-population state in the country.
Dianne Klein, a
spokeswoman for the office of University
of California president
Mark Yudof, couldn’t contain her dismay when reacting to recent cuts.
"Here we have the world's best public university system, and we're just
getting chainsawed," she told the Daily Californian. "Public education
is dying, and perhaps we are reaching a tipping point."
to a 2010 report by the Public Policy Institute of California, young adults
are less likely to graduate from college than their parents. Among the 20 most
populous states, California ranked 18th in 2010 in its rate of students going
straight from high school to college; factor in all states and California
ranked 40th. According to the institute, this crumbling bridge between high
school and college means California
could face a shortfall of a million skilled workers by 2025.
And what awaits
the students who do make it into the ivory tower? Let me paint you a grim
picture. Colleges are filling the gap in state funding by leaning ever harder
on students and their families to pay more in tuition and fees. Thirty years
ago, the state accounted for nearly 70 percent of public higher education
funding; today, it's 25 percent. In the last five years alone, student fees
for University of California and Cal State
students. For community college students, they've leapt by 80 percent.
increasingly hunt for grants and scholarships to cover some part of their
growing share of the tab, but far more often their only option is to take out
loans. According to the Project on Student Debt, in 2010 nearly half of all
graduates of public and private four-year schools in California were saddled with an average debt load of $18,000. Nationally, a record one-in-five
college graduates has student loan debt, and in 2010, the national average for
debt owed was $26,682, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center.
In California, community colleges have always been the most
democratic of California's
higher education options. They educate the majority of students, offer the most
classes, and provide students with job training or a launching pad to a
four-year college. They have, however, taken a Mike Tyson-esque beating in California's budget
crises, losing $809 million—or 12 percent of their state funding—since
reduced class offerings, fewer sections of the classes that remain, and the
laying off of faculty and staff. At the start of the 2012-13 school year, 85 percent
112 community colleges had waiting lists of students trying to get into
overbooked classes. In all, 470,000 community college students were stuck in
such a situation. Eighty-two percent of these colleges said they weren't
offering any winter semester classes at all. Enrollment is down at community
colleges by 17 percent. "We're at the breaking point," Jack Scott,
the recently retired community college chancellor, told the Los Angeles Times in September.
Tirado, a student at Los Angeles Trade Tech, told the Times that class
shortages meant it could take her three to four years to get her two-year
associate's degree. Tirado’s situation is increasingly commonplace. "It's
hard to explain to my mom that I'm trying to go to school but the classes are
not there," she said.
The budget cuts
have also hit faculty and staff hard. Seventy percent of community colleges said in a recent survey that they'd cut hours for support
staffs. On Cal State campuses, the faculty-student ratio has jumped from 21
students per faculty member in 1980 to 32-to-1 in 2010—and the
same trend can be seen among the system’s elite schools, with the
faculty-student ratio there inching up from 16-to-1 to 21-to-1 over the same
period. As faculty members deal with larger class size, more papers to read,
more tests to grade, their pay has failed to keep pace. Salaries for Cal State
professors haven't budged from the $75,000 to $93,000 range for the last 30
years. Adjust for inflation and CSU professors earned less in 2010 than they
did in 1980.
So where did
all that money go? Here's a hint: Look for the men who wear orange jumpsuits, sleep stacked atop each other in
triple-decker bunk beds, and each year gobble up an ever greater share of
California's ever scarcer finances.
higher education and prison systems are a study in opposites. The prison system
saw its state funding in dollars leap 436 percent between 1980 and 2011. Back
then, spending on prisons was a mere 3 percent of California's budget; it's now 10 percent.
According to the
nonpartisan transparency group California Common Sense, the prison
population expanded at eight times the growth rate of California’s population. In May 2011, the
U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state to immediately shrink its prison
population because its treatment of prisoners constituted cruel and unusual
punishment. At the time, its 33 prisons held 143,321 inmates (official capacity: 80,000).
If money talks,
message is plain enough: prisoners matter more than students. Put another way:
college is the past, jail is the future.
disillusionment over California's
abandonment of its students, teachers, and staff boiled over in 2011. Protests
sprung up at campuses across the state. Students shut down a meeting of the University of California’s Board
of Regents, walked out of classes at San Francisco State, and clashed
with truncheon-swinging police in Long Beach and Berkeley.
But the most
indelible of these protests unfolded on the campus of UC-Davis, an hour's drive
northeast of San Francisco.
Student protesters there disobeyed campus rules by staging a peaceful sit-in on
a footpath in the campus quad. For their efforts Lt. John Pike, a
barrel-chested, helmeted, mustachioed campus cop, doused
them with pepper spray. He did so in a manner so nonchalant that it
triggered immediate shock and outrage; photos and videos of the incident shot
across the globe in meme form. There was Lt. Pike pepper-spraying God in Michaelangelo's "Creation of
Adam," soaking the Declaration of Independence in John Trumbull's
1817 painting, feeding the raging flames that swallowed up the Buddhist
monk Thich Quang Duc after he had set himself ablaze in Saigon in 1963.
A rallying cry
for the dozen or so students who occupied that path was the price of an education.
In just eight years, tuition at UC-Davis had more than doubled.
did not show up for fall classes at Santa
Without the state grant she'd hoped for, she returned to De Anza for a third
year. She's starting a paid internship in which she'll school students in how
to better navigate the world of college financial aid. "I want to try to
help people understand what their options are," she told me. "I don't
want somebody else to be in my shoes. It was so hard."
Baltazar and a friend traveled down the coast to Santa Cruz. She stopped in a tourist shop,
and a postcard on a rack caught her eye. It listed a smattering of facts from
1981, the year she was born. Her gaze settled on one particular figure: Harvard University tuition was then $6,000. The
nation's oldest and most prestigious university had cost just six grand. That's
$15,206 in today's dollars. She couldn't believe it. At De Anza, Baltazar said
she spent $18,000 a year in tuition and living costs.
me that she's still set on getting her bachelor's degree. She'll try again for Santa Clara, and also
apply to state schools. She's not picky; she can't afford to be. "I will
apply to anybody who will take me and help me pay for it," she said.
Like a lot of
young people in California,
Baltazar clings to the dream of public higher education, but in her life, as in
those of so many others across the state, it’s curdling into something more
like a nightmare. "I went to school in California because I knew there
were more financial aid options, I knew about the Cal Grant, and I thought, 'I
should be able to get these things,'" she told me. "In California, the
education system is great—if you can afford it. If you can't afford it, it's kind
of a moot point."
California once led the way into a
system of unparalleled public higher education. It now seems determined to lead
the way out of it.
is a staff reporter in D.C. bureau of Mother Jones magazine. He's the
son of two graduates of California's higher
education system, and he himself graduated from a public institution, the University of Michigan. An associate editor at TomDispatch, he writes
about politics, money, and the economy, and can be reached at akroll (at)
motherjones (dot) com.
Image by Hank Chapot,
licensed under Creative
6/6/2012 1:09:45 PM
Creative Commons Excerpted from an article that originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education
Thousands of Quebec's university students have been protesting for
the past three months. Why? Apparently, because of the government's
plans for a $1,625 rise in tuition over five years, which will result in
annual tuition of about $3,800 by 2017. In other words, at the far end
of these increases, Quebec students will still be paying less for their
education than their peers elsewhere in Canada, and far less than most
American college students.
On the basis of these numbers alone, it's hard to sympathize with the
students' putative plight, let alone condone the protracted, frequently
violent protests that it has provoked. The protests have included the
smoke-bombing of Montreal's subway system, expressway shutdowns, and
attacks on government buildings. They have led to campus shutdowns,
suspended semesters at many of the province's colleges and universities,
and the resignation of Quebec's education minister. Some supporters of
the students invoke the social-protest movements of the late 1960s to
suggest their radical bravery, while critics disparage them as enfants
roi, or child kings—monstrously entitled brats.
But perhaps this is something more than a romanticized rush to the
barricades or a collective temper tantrum. Perhaps the situation in
Quebec, like the recent protest-driven votes for outsider parties in
European elections and the rise of the Occupy movement in the United
States, actually exposes, in the context of higher education, a profound
crisis of faith in the socioeconomic frameworks that have structured
and advanced societies across North America and Europe since World War
II. These recent events register, in their various local situations, a
rejection of the premise of the postwar liberal state: that large-scale
institutions and elected leaders are capable of creating opportunities
for individual citizens to flourish.
In other words, Quebec's students aren't simply protesting tuition
hikes meant to cover the expected gap between future public revenues and
government funds for higher education. They're protesting their looming
entry, through the traditional pathway of post-secondary education, into
a broader social system—both locally and internationally—whose
capacities, as we're reminded daily, are being undermined by enormous
government debts, intractable political divisions, flagging national
economies, and widespread unemployment and underemployment, particularly
for young people.
And if the very socioeconomic structures, institutions, leaders, and
policies that purport to solve these overwhelming problems seem instead
effectively responsible for exacerbating them, why would students want
to join this system, never mind pay a few hundred bucks more per year
for the privilege?
The time has come for us to admit that what has worked for so many,
for so long, very likely won't work for many more, for much longer.
Read the rest of this story at The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Image: The CLASSE contingent passing under the Berri underpass during the May 22, 2012 demonstration in Montreal. Taken by Justin Ling, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/17/2011 4:54:04 PM
My master’s degree is worth less than my husband’s bachelor’s degree, according to a survey report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Of course, I don’t need the survey to tell me, since I know it from our paychecks, wherein I earn 79 cents for every dollar he earns. Hey, I must be doing something right: That’s one generous penny more than the national average.
Yes, the most recent census reveals that women workers are still paid a scant 78 cents on the dollar earned by men. If I wanted to make as much money as my husband, the Georgetown report says, I would need to earn a PhD. “All told,” writes Kristina Chew on Care2, “over their lifetimes, women with the same educational achievements as men earn about a quarter less than their male counterparts.”
Naysayers argue that these statistics are skewed by women with advanced degrees who exit the workforce for years to be stay-at-home moms. But the survey accounts for the time-off disparity, and the report makes clear that its numbers are actually a conservative estimate of the gender wage gap, concluding, “The findings are stark: Women earn less at all degree levels, even when they work as much as men.”
Solutions, anyone? Mine is to move salaries out of the realm of used car haggling and into that of a modern and healthy transparent business model, wherein each employee’s wages are listed in the employee handbook for all to see and shared with new hires during the interview process. Just one dreamy step toward equal pay for equal work.
Image by j.o.h.n. walker
, licensed under Creative Commons.
11/1/2010 2:29:13 PM
Twenty percent of Americans between the ages 25 to 64, some 37 million people, have taken college coursework but failed to earn a degree. These folks are already part of the way toward a diploma and statistically higher wages, but can’t find the time, money, patience, or purpose to conclude their education. Project Win-Win, a new outreach program profiled in The Chronicle of Higher Education, is meant to find college dropouts who are just a few classes away from graduation and encourage them to complete their degrees. Sounds like a win-win situation, right?
But as The Chronicle’s Jennifer Gonzalez explains, it’s not an easy sell getting dropouts back into school:
One of the first responses from many former students reached by college officials involved with Project Win-Win is whether the invitation to re-enroll is a joke. Some are befuddled, having thought for years that they had already earned a degree. Others are indifferent, assuming that the communication will lead to a plea for money.
If colleges can get their dropouts to the next step of the conversation, of entertaining the idea of returning, there are still challenges. Sometimes cost is a worry; sometimes curricula have been updated so that certain credits no longer count toward a particular degree.
The process can also be an administrative headache for colleges.
Success requires scouring databases, and in some cases adjusting them, to locate students who fit the criteria for graduation. Countless hours are spent tracking down students via letters, phone calls, and e-mails. The work is a drain on college staff members, who usually juggle those duties with their regular workloads. And it is all occurring at a precarious time, especially for community colleges, where surging enrollment collides with dwindling resources.
To make the transition back to a scholarly life easier for former students, Project Win-Win is emulating the "cut through the red tape" approach of University of New Mexico's successful Graduation Project, a program that guides students over the bureaucratic hurdles of the University system. Graduation Project gives students information about which classes they need to graduate, encourages them to petition academic departments for credits or waivers, and works with the registrar's office when classes fill to capacity before the returning student can secure a seat. Small victories are trickling in. At the time of the article's publication, Project Win-Win had awarded almost 600 associate degrees and identified an additional 1,600 potential degree recipients.
The Chronicle of Higher Education
, licensed under
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