Budget Crisis Advice for Evergreen from the CPJ Business Dept.
BY CASSANDRA JOHNSON-VILLALOBOS
National college enrollment is down. At Evergreen, we lost 100 students between winter and spring. Student groups and student-run businesses, such as the Cooper Point Journal, are already feeling the lack of student activities funding. You see, the little bit of “tax” students pay with tuition allows organizations like us to ask for some extra dollars when, say, advertising revenue from local businesses is low in a given year.
This spring quarter, the CPJ found itself caught between a low ad revenue trend and Evergreen’s own enrollment crisis—faced with the inability to seek assistance from the school coincidentally during a year when many local businesses had to slash their own marketing budgets.
Legally and morally, the paper had to keep a few expensive promises before the end of the year: to maintain our printing schedule, and to keep our stipended staff somewhat paid. For me, the business manager and co-coordinator, the experience of seeking ad revenue was equally educational and maddening.
But I learned one important, central lesson: when the proverbial “pie” shrinks, you just need to get a larger piece of that pie.
As the CPJ has reported in the past, our school spends much more time and effort marketing to out-of-state students than to potential in-state attendees. The reason is clear: each person paying three times as much as a state resident for tuition is contributing more money to the school than an in-state student. Poor first-year student retention (70 percent retained) has been a huge concern for the school throughout my time at Evergreen.
My intuition and experience both tell me these problems are linked. Adjusting to life on your own directly out of high school in a very unfamiliar, very rainy part of the country proves overwhelming for a lot of people. The majority of Washington’s residents live on the rainy side of the state, have probably made their peace with seasonal affective disorder, and have at least visited Olympia on a school field trip to the capitol
National Center for Education Statistics projected in 2009 that over 75 percent of Washington’s college-bound high school graduates would remain in-state to pursue a higher education degree. Overall, advertising and catering to high schoolers and transfer students in Evergreen’s own backyard promises a steady, high-volume stream of attendees who are more likely to stay in the area.
Use (don’t lose) Evergreen’s reputation as an alternative school.
The recent decision to limit Independent Learning Contract credits seemed like an obviously self-conscious move to many current students. The prospect of contracts, whether or not students actually pursue them, attracts the independent thinkers and self-directed learners that have always kept Evergreen in business. As students become busier in response to the changing economy, the variable credit options that contracts offer stand to go up in value. Other things that make Evergreen stand out, like our community radio station, our student-run café and paper, and the quality of on-campus events, are the things that make students stand out when they leave campus life and go out into the world.
Provide campus support for low-income students.
Little things like offering more used books in the bookstore lets us know you’re thinking of us. Some of us can’t call home for an extra $50 if finances run out before the end of the quarter. Also, making the financial aid process more expedient for poor, busy, disorganized students would probably benefit everybody. I know a low-income student who transferred to Evergreen with a history of independent financial aid status from two in-state schools. During her first quarter, she was required to submit a detailed record of her mother’s finances. The process delayed her financial aid through week 7 of that quarter.
Update the institution’s definition of a standard college student.
In my current program, students who work one or more jobs outside of school are more common than those for whom school is their sole vocation. Limiting the hours faculty expect students to put into a program based on the declared credit hours of the program would help out so many people who are essentially in college to make it out of the two-job game into a promising career. More 12-credit full-time and 4-credit part-time programs, please!
Emphasize post-college jobs.
If less people are attending college across the U.S, they are obviously choosing to go straight into the job market. And let’s keep in mind that there’s no better way to motivate poor college students than telling them the work they’re doing now will result in job security and a salary.
Increase interdepartmental information transparency.
Any student who has had to visit the first floor of the library building to sort out an issue (for instance, with financial aid and their student account) will likely agree with the following statement: jogging between offices is good exercise, but not so nice in terms of stress levels. All sarcasm aside, hustling between different on-campus locations is even harder on students with physical disabilities.
Reward on-campus entities that increase student retention.
A prime example of a space/organization on campus that targets demographic-based student retention and success issues is First Peoples Advising. Before I came to Evergreen, I worked at a similar place called the Diversity and Equity Center (DEC) at South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC). The main difference between the two offices is the amount of space and resources allotted to them: First Peoples offers a few computers, potluck space, and advising resources with limited space and accessibility, whereas the DEC is located across from SPSCC’s student registration offices, houses a huge media library, and could probably seat 50 people without much seating rearrangement.
First Peoples deserves the funding and space equal to its mission: to make college an environment for groups who face institutional barriers to success. Other parts of the community college model that Evergreen could adapt to better serve students in low-income and racial or cultural minority groups are: the expansion of night and weekends studies and the introduction of a diversity/sociology requirement for all graduates.