An education crisis is unfolding in California, particularly in San Diego. Perhaps it is due to the capitalistic system of the United States; perhaps it is because of the militarized country and its greed for world domination; or maybe it is because of the wrong priorities in a hierarchical society. Perhaps it is a result of all these factors, but one thing is certain: it is not working and it is affecting youth of color and those in low-income and middle-class communities. Young people are being tracked into the military instead of colleges and universities now more than ever as education becomes increasingly exclusive.
In September last year I attended a school district board meeting representing the Education Not Arms Coalition (ENAC). In the San Diego Unified School District, there were many students who received their enrollment forms with question number 28 pre-checked. This question asked if it is OK to release the student’s information to the military. The answer was already marked “yes” when the forms were distributed. ENAC’s demands were to delay the release of any information to the military and to have the situation corrected by providing an opportunity for all households in the district to opt out.
In that same meeting I became aware of the elimination of San Diego State University’s Local Access Guarantee Policy, which gives all students in the San Diego region who have completed certain requirements priority over students outside the region, including out-of-state and international students. This includes completion of A-G courses (e.g., four years of English, three years of math), the SAT examinations, and a minimum GPA. The effect of this policy has been to provide local low-income students an opportunity to succeed. Many of them are place-bound because they cannot afford to go to far-away colleges due to significantly higher out-of-state tuition costs; instead, under the Local Access Policy they have been able to attend school while living at home. Even though this policy has been extremely beneficial to our communities, it has been eliminated by an elitist administration that seeks to bring in more money from students paying higher out-of-state tuition fees. Their justification is that it would enable SDSU to become a more prestigious and competitive school.
Also, on November 19, 2009, the University of California decided to raise tuition fees by 32 percent, phased in with a 15 percent increase in the spring quarter of 2010 and followed by the remaining increase in the summer quarter. This means that tuition that was recently $7788 will become $10,302. The cost of a UC education (four-year bachelor’s degree) -- including room, board, books, supplies and other estimated expenses -- is well over $100,000. Most students in the UC system rely on Cal Grants to pay for this expensive education, but now that is threatened too due to the lack of funding for public education and reduced aid from the state.
California Community Colleges have also had significant changes. Many courses are being dropped, giving students fewer choices. Classes are quickly filled, and the community colleges will have to reject more students in coming semesters because of insufficient funds. The requirements to transfer from a community college to a university like SDSU or UCSD are becoming more stringent.
So what are San Diego’s youth supposed to do after high school? SDSU is eliminating its local access guarantee and increasing GPA and SAT requirements to become more prestigious, UCSD is becoming even more expensive, and community colleges are cutting classes, professors, and opportunities. With the possibilities of higher education diminishing, the military recruitment numbers are predicted to rise. The military is appealing to San Diego youth who struggle for a higher education or a stable job in the current economy. Recruiters promise them funding for education, scholarships, or a safe job in the military away from the front lines, while universities appear to be impossible to attend or leave students with tremendous debt upon graduation. Undocumented students do not qualify for any financial aid. Military recruitment materials litter high school campuses in career centers, lunch areas, and even libraries. Military propaganda is constantly in front of youth, appearing in popular social networking sites and in commercials on TV and in movie theaters. So students with few options are easily lured by the false promises made by military recruiters.
It is time for new priorities. The state must increase funding for education, provide financial aid to our students, build more schools, and hire more teachers instead of building and filling prisons. It is time for SDSU to serve its own community first. It is time for the University of California to understand that public universities must remain affordable. It is time to stop spending billions of dollars on war and to instead invest in the education of our youth.
David Morales is a community organizer and student at UC San Diego.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/)